Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Adventures in Raw Milk - Buttermilk

Buttermilk, oh buttermilk. For my dad and grandpa, it's something that you drink. For my mom or
me, it's something used for baking or culturing cheese. It comes in many forms - white bottles in the dairy section, or powdered stuff that you can rehydrate. And when you have extra raw milk around, and no room in the fridge, it's something you make with that extra half gallon of milk to buy some time. :)

Making Buttermilk

There are four main ways to make cultured buttermilk.

- Make cultured butter. First, culture your cream (think sour cream), make butter from it, and the residual liquid is cultured buttermilk. I've done this before, but as my dad prefers sweet cream butter over cultured butter, and my mom and I are rather indifferent, we're not likely to make cultured butter on a regular basis.

- Culture regular milk (or sweet cream buttermilk) with existing buttermilk. This method is very similar to making Filmjolk or other mesophilic yogurts - take 3 cups of milk (pasteurized or raw, avoid ultra-high temperature [UHT] if possible, it has inconsistent results) and 1 cup of cultured buttermilk (store bought or from a previous batch, just so long as there is a live, active culture) and stick them in a quart jar. Stir it up, cover with a towel, and let it sit on the counter 12-24 hours until it clabbers.

- Let raw milk (or raw sweet cream buttermilk) clabber all by itself. Put it in a jar, cover with a towel, and let it sit on the counter until it clabbers, 12-48 hours. This is my preferred method, since the last of the old buttermilk usually gets used up before I can make a new batch with it.

- You can also buy a starter (either direct set or heirloom) from somewhere like Cultures for Health. For things like my water kefir or yogurt that I couldn't easily start myself, I use their heirloom starters. In the case of buttermilk, I find that it's easier and cheaper to use one of the above methods.

Note - if your temperature gets a little too warm (say, above 77*) your buttermilk may split into curds and whey. It may split anyway, even if it doesn't get too warm. This isn't really a problem, just shake it up and it'll go back to normal looking, or as normal looking as clabbered milk gets.

Yes. My buttermilk is my only non-pirate culture at this time.
When the whey separates out, he looks kinda fluffy - hence, the name.
***If you're like me, and culturing multiple things at once, keep a distance of a few feet between each ferment while it's on the counter. Long John the sourdough lives on the island in the kitchen, Captain Flint the Filmjolk yogurt gets cultured by the coffee pot once a week (he's the most finicky on staying warm), Fluffy the buttermilk lives on the opposite end of the counter from Captain Flint, Jim Hawkins the vinegar lives in the garage, and The Dread Pirate Roberts the water kefir lives in the summer kitchen in the back. Yes, they have names - they ARE alive, after all.*** 

Now that you've made the buttermilk, you might as well have a few fun things to do with it!


Cheese and Other Cultured Things

Instead of going out and buying a packet of cheese culture, there are a ton of recipes out there using buttermilk or yogurt to inoculate milk for cheese. This one for Creole Cream Cheese is tried-and-true awesome. A side note on this recipe - where most recipes tell you to use cheesemaking animal or vegetable rennet (NOT Junket that you get at the grocery store) my grandparents taught me to make this recipe using Junket rennet, and it works just fine.

Sour Cream

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1 cup cream
1 tablespoon cultured buttermilk or mesophilic yogurt

- Mix the ingredients together in a glass jar, cover loosely and let it culture at 70-77* for 12-24 hours or until thickened.
- Use it to make cultured butter, or eat it on your tacos!
- This "recipe" can be scaled up or down as long as you keep the proportions the same.

Baking

When the milk is cultured, it's chemically changed and made more acidic than regular milk. It will react differently in a recipe than if you were going to use normal milk. Where "regular" recipes might just call for baking powder, buttermilk recipes tend to call for baking soda. Many recipes call for both, and hey, that's okay, too.

Baking soda is a base - mix it with an acid, and you get a chemical reaction. In the case of baking, this is what makes your bread or cake rise. In the case of 5th grade experiments, this is what made the carbon dioxide bubbly lava stuff come out of your science fair volcano. Buttermilk is acidic, so it needs a base (like baking soda) to react with.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda (a base), cream of tartar (an acid), and a buffer like cornstarch to keep them from reacting in the jar. Baking powder doesn't need an external acid like baking soda to react and produce carbon dioxide.

Buttermilk Biscuits

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1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup lard or cold butter
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 450*.
2. Sift together flour, salt, powder, soda and sugar.
3. Cut in lard or butter.
4. Add buttermilk and lightly mix.
5. Turn out dough to a well floured board. Knead gently for 30 seconds, adding flour as needed.
6. Pat dough into 1/2" thickness.
7. Cut with floured knife or biscuit cutter (this is the one I use) - do not use a glass or anything with a dull or rounded edge. Your biscuits need a sharp cut to rise properly.
8. Place in greased cast iron skillet (almost touching is great). If you don't have cast iron skillet, that's okay, they just rise better and bake more evenly in there.
9. Bake for 15-25 minutes until just beginning to brown.

Fake Buttermilk
In the event that you have a buttermilk baking recipe, and no cultured buttermilk, there is a workaround option. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup. Fill with milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit on the counter for a few minutes, and it will clabber up a bit. It will be acidic like the cultured buttermilk and lend a comparable flavor to your cooking. You just can't culture a new batch of buttermilk from this.

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Sources
Sally's Baking Addiction - Baking Basics - This is a great series to read when you have the time (or just run to it when you have an urgent question).
Cultures For Heath - Cultured Buttermilk Troubleshooting - This page assumes you've used their heirloom buttermilk starter, but the questions/answers apply no matter how you cultured your buttermilk.
Chef John Folse's Creole Cream Cheese - This man has a ton of great recipes on there, not just the cream cheese.
Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (1975) - My mom got this for me at a used book sale at the library for a quarter. Old cookbooks are almost always a better option than new ones! It's filled with great recipes and techniques.
CDC on Raw Milk - Some people (your friendly federal government most prominent among them) have issues with raw milk. There is the possibility of bad bacteria getting into just about anything that you eat or drink, but I'm content with using good food safety practices and not being stupid about raw food. If you care to read what Big Brother has to say on the subject, go read and make your own decision.