How to: make your own cultured buttermilk

February 16, 2011

At the beginning of the year, I stumbled upon a blog post about making cultured buttermilk.  (Side note: isn’t it fabulous how many fun and inspiring things we can learn from other blogs?)  Having only previously purchased buttermilk from the store or discovered the “old fashioned buttermilk” that is produced when I make butter, I was totally intrigued by the idea of making it.  First, I hadn’t fully known what the difference between “old fashioned buttermilk” and “cultured buttermilk” was.  After emailing Kristen Michaelis (the writer behind the blog, The Food Renegade) what the difference was between the two, I learned that:

Old-fashioned buttermilk is what you get when you make butter. Cultured buttermilk is what most modern recipes MEAN when they call for “buttermilk.” That’s what my tutorial teaches you how to make. You can culture old-fashioned buttermilk to make cultured buttermilk, too. The process works the same as it does for regular milk.

Second, aside from the simple intrigue of trying to make something new, I was totally unaware of all the ingredients found in most store bought buttermilk (there is a photo from a buttermilk label and more details on this over at the buttermilk tutorial).

What I am going to explain below is how to make buttermilk using raw milk since that is the only way I have done it.  But if you don’t use raw milk but still want to try it, click on over to this buttermilk tutorial for details!  By the way, the process of making buttermilk from raw milk (as opposed to pasteurized milk) is a longer process, but it is not a all hard.

Ready to try it yourself? Brace yourself for this long list of ingredients ;) :

-1 Cup Raw Milk (if you are not using raw milk, click here for instructions)
-And. . . thats it!

-Set your cup of milk out on the counter at room temperature until you start to see it thickening up and getting clumpy (this is called “clabbering”).  This will most likely take a few days (mine took about three).  What is clabbered milk?  I wondered the same thing.  This is what Wikipedia tells me:

Clabber is a food produced by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. Over time the milk thickens or curdles into a yoghurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor. In rural areas of the Southern United States, it was commonly eaten for breakfast with brown sugarnutmegcinnamon, or molassesadded. Some people also eat it with fruit or black pepper and cream. . . With the rise of pasteurization the making of clabber virtually stopped, except on farms that had easy access to unprocessed cow’s milk. A somewhat similar food can be made from pasteurized milk by adding a couple of tablespoons of commercial buttermilk or sour milk to a glass of milk.

-Once your milk has clabbered (see the photo below and how it looks clumpy), remove 3/4 of the cup of clabbered milk and discard leaving 1/4 cup of milk in your jar.

-Add 1 cup of new milk to the 1/4 cup of clabbered milk.  (At this point your newly added milk can be raw or pasteurized.)  Cover and shake it up to mix it well and again, allow it to stand at room temperature until it once again, is fully clabbered.  It will likely take slightly less time to clabber this second time around.
-After it has clabbered, again, remove all but 1/4 cup of the clabbered milk from your jar and again add to it a new cup of refrigerated milk, cover, shake and leave on the counter.

-Continue this process until the time needed for the clabbering process is 24 hours.  Once you reach this stage, smell and taste a small amount to be sure that it has a nice tangy flavor and has thickened nicely with no off flavors.  Then transfer 6 oz of your clabbered milk to a quart jar and fill with fresh milk.
-Now begins the last stage of the process: cover, shake and let your quart jar sit on the counter until it clabbers.
-Once it clabbers, put it in the fridge and use it for all your wonderful buttermilk recipes such as buttermilk pancakes, breads, biscuits, ranch dressing. . .

Isn’t that amazing that you can start with one cup of milk and with nothing else but time and room temperature get buttermilk?!  Isn’t it amazing that the milk doesn’t “go bad” after leaving it out at room temperature?!  I was totally shocked that the milk was simply a tart/tangy buttermilk, not at all sour smelling or tasting!

Aside from being a fascinating project to try and a much healthier way to enjoy buttermilk, the most wonderful thing I discovered was that once the innital process (explained above) is complete, I have a wonderful buttermilk “starter”.  So whenever my jar of buttermilk runs low I simply refill with fresh milk, cover, shake and set it out on the counter until it clabbers (usually only one day) and I have a brand new jar of buttermilk!

Good to note: Kristen, from The Food Renegade mentioned that in making buttermilk, quantities don’t matter as much as proportion so if you stick to the ratios it won’t matter how much you are making, it will turn out great.

A question I had: I found myself wondering if there was something I could use the 3/4 cup of clabbered milk for that I was pouring off rather than just throwing it away.  After reading through the comments here I found that others had this question as well.  It seems that since this milk is not fully buttermilk and no longer just milk it is sort of an an awaked stage that makes it not really that useful for most purposes.  What you are trying to do is build up the active bacteria cultures to a concentration that will allow the milk to clabber within 24 hours, thus the need to repeat the process.

I began the process of making buttermilk at the end of last month and have refilled my quart jar 3 times now and still have and endless supply of lovely buttermilk at my fingertips!  If you decide to try this out, I would love to hear how it goes for you!

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