Culturing buttermilk and other yummy things (including a handy tip)

Buttermilk culture

When I was at the Weston A. Price conference last November in Dallas, I got a few of Cultures for Health‘s outstanding – and beautifully packaged – cultures. I’d gotten a couple of their sourdough cultures last year, and they were terrific. So I sprang for a buttermilk culture. I love buttermilk. I can never find it made from raw milk, so the idea of culturing my own yummy buttermilk from some good Organic Pastures or Clavarale Dairy milk – well, how could I possibly resist?

(By the way, nobody ever mentions the fact that one takes on a certain amount of responsibility when starting to play with renewable cultures. For example, you’re supposed to make a fresh buttermilk starter culture every week, according to the instructions. Given the fact that the starter uses a cup of milk, but I’m only going to need a tablespoon or so per cup of milk I’ll be making into buttermilk after that, that’s a heck of a lot of buttermilk to make every week just to keep up – at least a couple of quarts. And I don’t want to starve the poor thing, that would be cruel. Sure, I’ll be alternating kefir and buttermilk for breakfast, and playing with buttermilk as a soaking medium. But still. We’re talking some serious commitment to culture here.)

Since I don’t want to restrict my culturing, what I’ve decided to do is fudge the renewal process, like I do with my other “pets.” Sourdough starter seems to do just fine if I feed it every couple of weeks. Kefir grains don’t seem to mind being stashed in the fridge, covered in milk, for up to a few weeks at a time. So I’ll be experimenting to see how long I can push the starter culture and still have it work. So far I found that two weeks seems to still result in a good thick buttermilk starter culture, so I’m hopeful.

What’s the tip? Well, I’ve been finding with this buttermilk culture (like Piima and some others) that it has a fairly narrow range of temperatures that make it happy. It was supposed to need 12-18 hours to get the starter going. Well, that little mason jar sat in my oven with the light on for 14 or 15 hours and the contents were no thicker than it was when I whisked it up in the first place. Then I remembered that a water bath is useful for making custard because it maintains such an even, gentle temperature. Maybe it would work even if I wasn’t cooking. So I put the jar in a small bowl, filled the bowl nearly to the rim with warm water, and (carefully) put it back in the oven. Success! Just a few hours later, nice thick buttermilk starter!

So now (at least while it’s winter) I’m putting all my cultures in a little dish of warm water before stashing in the oven, and they do beautifully.

I hope this helps you have your own successful cultural experiences!

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