Butter

Buttermilk is a delicious and long forgotten drink. The word is around – buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk dressing – but there isn’t any buttermilk in them. Yes, you’ve been hoodwinked again by the ginat food companies.

The “buttermilk” in these dressings, the “buttermilk” in cartons if you can find it, is (according to this article about Kates Homemade Butter in the NY Time):

“…isn’t really buttermilk. It is made from regular low-fat or skim milk, usually low-grade rejects from cheese and butter companies. The milk is inoculated with cultures to make it acidic, and thickened with additives like locust bean gum and carrageenan. The result is a flattened facsimile of the real thing, as a ring tone is to a song.”

Like a ring tone to a song… that’s nice. Except that you can at least identify the ringtone with the song it’s supposed to represent. The faux buttermilk of today is just another hoax pulled on the public in the steady march towards eating more crap. Of course, unlike with margarine and other repulsive concoctions, very few people consume buttermilk on a regular basis.

Daniel Patry, the founder of Kates Farms, is out to change that. He says it’s delicious. And so do I.

Here in Japan, I recently was reintroduced to buttermilk…. and to butter for that matter. I have been meaning to make my own butter. Meaning to. You know how things are. I’m busy, it’s too much trouble, and probably time consuming… the list goes on. I might never have gotten around to it if I hadn’t taken my 9 year old daughter to a local educational farm called Aburayama Farmland. She did the usual things, sweeping up livestock manure, feeding sheep, grooming horses, milking cows. And then we ate lunch.

It was after lunch that we moved on to the lesson in making butter. It goes like this…

Get ready….

Step 1 – Put some cream in a jar, and then close the lid tightly.

Step 2 – Shake the jar for several minutes.

And that’s pretty much it. The cream solids (butter) separate from the cream liquids. The liquids are buttermilk or skim milk, depending on your perspective. Buttermilk needs to be cultured, and you won’t get the real thing from store bought milk unfortunately. There is a little rinsing involved but it’s dead simple. You’ll end up with a lump of butter clanging away in some buttermilk juices. Real butter, which will wash down like nothing you’ve ever tasted from the supermarket. This fuzzy faced guy gives a good demonstration of the process. I’ve heard of milk mustaches – I guess he has a butter beard!

Back to the buttermilk is one of the most nutritious things you can drink. While it sounds like something grandma made on the farm (well… it was), it is loaded with live bacteria and is one of the probiotic foods that are so popular among health obsessed. Probiotics aid in populating your intestine with healthy bacteria, and are thought to improve the  immune function among other things, such is aiding the absorption of B vitamins and helping to cure diarrhea.

Back to the Times article:

Ms. Cruze graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in agricultural science and serves as the family’s buttermilk ambassador, selling golden buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk ice creams in flavors like lime-cardamom and salty caramel, and flavored buttermilks like fig and strawberry at the Market Square Farmers’ Market in Knoxville every Saturday.

At the market, she is tireless in persuading customers to drink shots of straight buttermilk, a farm tradition that is a tough sell to those acquainted only with the sour, cardboard-flavored supermarket version. “People are very afraid of it,” she said. “I have to remind them that it’s just like yogurt.”

It’s a curious twist, because buttermilk was a staple of the American diet long before yogurt became popular in the 1970s.

Debbie Moose, a food historian in North Carolina, remembers when buttermilk was so prevalent in the South that her mother called the regular version “sweet milk” to differentiate it.

Buttermilk had one great advantage in the days before refrigeration: if you set an uncovered pitcher of it on the counter of a farmhouse, natural cultures (usually picked up from the nonsterile wooden churn) would start a fermentation process that thickened and preserved the milk, souring it without spoiling it. This process is accomplished by lactobacilli — the same family that produces yogurt, sour cream and crème fraîche —bacteria that transform lactose (a sugar) into lactic acid.

“The lactic acid is what gives buttermilk its tartness, and Southerners developed a real taste for that,” said Ms. Moose, the author of “Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook,” published this month by the University of North Carolina Press. Buttermilk mixed with crumbled corn bread was a classic supper in the agrarian South, and the combination is pretty near perfect; sweet, tangy, earthy, rich and cool.

Rather than wait for an enterprising dairy maiden to make fresh butter and buttermilk in your area, why not just try making it on your own? It’s that easy, and yet another around using the mass produced pseudo foods that are so easy to buy. And, of course, the taste is something that will make you wonder why you never missed it before.

(Butter photo courtesy of Superfloss.)

 

 

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