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Want some culture? Drink buttermilk. It’s low in fat and cholesterol. For those who are lactose intolerant, its easier to digest than milk.

First cousin to yogurt, another cultured dairy product, buttermilk has a tart taste and creamy texture. Its zesty flavour is wonderful in pancakes (or any baker’s dish that needs an acid liquid). It is great mashed into potatoes, or as a marinade for fried catfish or chicken. In the summer, buttermilk mixed with grated cucumber is the basis for some superb chilled soups.

Those used to bland, even watery 2% or skim milk may find buttermilk too sour and thick for their tastes. I find it refreshing. A small glass leaves me feeling pleasantly satisfied. I never grew up with buttermilk as a staple, but it has become one of my comfort foods. It is a drink to jar me out of another dismal wintry day. This is not a weak tasting drink. It needs no cookies on the plate to give it a little substance. Buttermilk is great by itself. It fills the mouth with a velvet touch. A slightly acid tang kicks in. Within a few seconds I’m more aware of its unique flavour than the bleakness outside.

Buttermilk is the liquid that remains after making butter. Throw some 35% cream into the electric mixer and leave it on too long. You’ll get butter. The liquid that seeps out, however, needs to go apace before it can become buttermilk.

Not too long ago, butter was made more slowly. The cream was taken off the milk and allowed to settle. The process enabled fermentation to begin. The butter maker cultured his cream naturally and dairies developed sightly distinct flavours for their products. As the cream was churned, the butter would yield buttermilk. This too was thin but the cultures already present would continue to thrive and the milk would thicken.

Today, the process is more refined and quicker. Lactic acid is added to the liquid, hence the term “cultured buttermilk”. When there were dozens of dairies, each might churn out a subtly distinct butter and buttermilk. The buttermilk I drink is delicious but I’d love to be able to try different local varieties, the way we are still able to do with cheeses, cider, and even maple syrup.The flavour is there but the flavours are gone.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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