Have you ever heard that store-bought buttermilk isn't what it used to be? Me too. But take just milk, a little of that grocery store buttermilk as "starter", a sprinkle of salt and 24 hours later, what emerges is the thickest, creamiest and tangiest homemade buttermilk ever. Say hello to my latest obsession, making homemade buttermilk.
Talk about a Christmas gift that keeps on giving!
Let me explain. At Christmas, I gifted myself with magazine subscriptions. For the first time in several years, I subscribed to Saveur, Bon Appetit and Vegetarian Times. I figured the subscriptions were not just for me but for the industry as a whole, paying for inspiring writing and recipes. (Another “gift”? Subscribing via Amazon Magazine Subscription Manager. Now my subscriptions are in one easy-to-find Amazon-efficient place.)
My favorite subscription so far, for everyday recipe inspiration, is Vegetarian Times.
But the Bon Appetit subscription paid for itself in the first issue. Buried in the verrrry back of January was a toss-off recipe for making buttermilk.
Now for the record, I’ve always been keen on buttermilk. Why?I love its tang in smoothies and wherever you can really “taste” the buttermilk.
It’s also great for adding flavor and lightening a mayo-based dressing, a trick for reducing the calories in salads.
Plus buttermilk has a tenderizing effect on baked goods so a quart is always on hand for impromptu pancakes, muffins and my favorite rustic country-style cakes.
But when the fridge is buttermilk bare, like most of us, I have on occasion “made-do” by souring milk with vinegar or lemon juice as a substitute for buttermilk. That make-do buttermilk isn't that great, especially when commercial buttermilk is inexpensive and keeps for several weeks.
But over the years, I’ve also read that “store-bought buttermilk isn't what it used to be”. Would I be willing to put some effort into producing really good-tasting buttermilk? Heck yeah!
But this recipe? It is ever so easy! No yogurty heating and cooling contortions! No weird ingredients!
It takes no more than a little commercial buttermilk as the “starter” and then regular milk.
The first batch sat on my counter for a little over 24 hours and – not to overstate this or anything – IT WAS A REVELATION.
Tangy but with a touch of something akin to sweetness. Pillows of luxuriant creaminess. The first batch was made with whole milk and didn’t last long, I stirred it into soup and cereal and fruit and even took spoonfuls straight from the jar.
Since then I’ve made a new batch every week or so, often with whole milk, some times with skim milk. I use it for the typical buttermilk recipes but also as a substitute for yogurt and sour cream. I can’t get enough of this stuff!
In fact – for anyone who doesn’t have access to affordable Greek yogurt? (My regular grocery charges two arms and two legs for Greek yogurt.) Make the buttermilk with whole milk, then drain out the whey – it’s a very close cousin.
My favorite, by far, is making buttermilk with whole milk. This creamy stuff, it’s easy to imagine, is what old-timers so fondly remember about buttermilk.
For additional tang, I make buttermilk with goat milk too. I find it at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even my regular Schnucks grocery here in St. Louis and unfortunately, the skim version is becoming harder to find.
Time to table: 24 hours
Keeps: 2 to 3 weeks
BY EASY MEASURE
- 1/2 cup commercial buttermilk (see TIPS)
- 2 cups milk – whole, skim, goat (see TIPS)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (see TIPS)
FOR JUST ONE CUP (plus 1/4 cup starter for next time)
- 1/4 cup commercial buttermilk
- 1 cup milk
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
FOR A QUART (4 cups)
- 3/4 cup commercial buttermilk
- 3-1/4 cups milk
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 part commercial buttermilk
- 4 parts milk
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (per cup milk)
DAY ONE Combine buttermilk, milk and salt in a very clean glass container (see TIPS). Give it a good shake to combine. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 24 hours or until thick and creamy.
DAY TWO Set aside and refrigerate enough homemade buttermilk to use as the "buttermilk starter" for the next batch. Refrigerate and use the remainder within a couple of weeks. If the whey (that's the clear liquid) separates, gently shake to re-combine.
CONTAINERS A wide-mouth one-quart canning jar with measure marks on the side works especially well, no measuring cup required. But I’ve also ordered a brush bottle cleaner to make homemade buttermilk in an antique milk bottle from the Winnipeg Creamery with a narrow pour. A glass V-8 bottle works great too – though mine is a few years old, V-8 maybe only comes in plastic now.
COMMERCIAL BUTTERMILK This acts as the "starter" that converts the milk into buttermilk. It's nothing special, just store-bought buttermilk, organic if you like and available in one-cup, two-cup and quart-size cartons. Since you’ll only use a little, start with a small carton, especially if you intend to set aside some of your own for the next batch. By accident, I’ve used as little as 1/4 cup starter to 2 cups liquid. It’s fine, just slightly thinner. This means you needn’t be exact with the amounts, three cheers for that, eh?
SALT The Bon Appetit recipe called for a touch of salt. I’m on-again off-again about adding salt, usually off.
MILK CHOICES I’ve made buttermilk every week or two since January using different milks. Here’s how they’ve varied.
Whole Milk – produces a luscious thick ‘n’ creamy mixture that makes you say, Wow, this is what they mean by “real” buttermilk. Amazing. Too thick to pour into a glass but instead soft and spoonable. Definitely my favorite.
Organic Skim Milk – produces a thick tangy liquid similar in texture to commercial low-fat buttermilk but with fresher, purer flavor. Can be strained through paper towels for something like soft yogurt.
Low-Fat Goat Milk – produces a tangy liquid, very pourable, very drinkable. This continues to thicken in the refrigerator, the texture is very similar to commercial buttermilk.
Full-Fat Goat Milk – produces a tangy liquid, not at all as rich and delicious as whole milk so I’d save the calories and stick with low-fat goat milk.
Mixed Milks – clean out the fridge and use up odd bits of dairy all at once.
Cream – culture cream and buttermilk together and you get, yes, crème fraiche!
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