What about buttermilk?

I’ve written about every other component of my panna cotta, a reader pointed out last night, can I write a little about buttermilk? Oh, but of course.

For while there may or may not be much real cream around anymore, there definitely isn’t any real buttermilk. Why not? Because buttermilk is the fluid that remains after butter is churned out of cream, but butter isn’t made out of cream anymore. It’s made from leftovers from the cheese making process, by spinning bits of fat and protein out of whey via centrifuge. What’s left after that? Honestly I’m not sure, but it definitely isn’t buttermilk.

Today buttermilk is made by adding a culture to milk, usually skim, in an attempt to replicate the fairly lean liquid that was old-time buttermilk (however 2% and even whole milk are also commonly used). The culture adds the “tang” that buttermilk once had, which was a result of the fact that buttermilk sat out at room temperature in farmhouse kitchens (in the “clabber jar”), slowly souring from the action of bacteria. The acid the bacteria created made the buttermilk useful for leavening reactions (when combined with baking soda), and also make it pleasant for drinking.

Drinking? Echhh! That’s right, drinking. Buttermilk was once big stuff as a refresher on the farm, nice and light and tangy. Today’s buttermilk, being way to thick in my opinion (again from the action of the culture), isn’t so good for that. Although there is some really good stuff out there (some of which I found on my dairy hunt last week) that’s fantastic over ice. Pity I can’t afford the $6.99 per quart that I paid for it, or I might never drink root beer again.

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