Long associated with old-timey southern fare like fried chicken and cornbread, buttermilk has suddenly emerged as the darling of chefs from coast to coast. It has gained in popularity through a convergence of interest in “heritage” ingredients, a desire to turn former “kitchen scraps” into center-of-plate stars, and the increased awareness of the benefits of foods high in lactic acid fermentation.
North Carolina food historian Debbie Moose wrote an entire book about this newly rediscovered kitchen workhorse. “Like a full moon on a warm southern night, buttermilk makes something special happen,” she wrote. While she admits that other southern liquids, including moonshine and sweet iced tea, may be more closely associated with the south, she asks and answers this question in her book’s introduction: “Can a shot of Kentucky bourbon do as much in the kitchen as buttermilk? I don’t think so.”
The real thing
What Moose and other buttermilk aficionados are referring to is not the buttermilk sold in grocery dairy cases today, which is a highly processed product made with skimmed milk, cultures and other thickening agents. Instead, they urge chefs to investigate local organic dairies that are ramping up buttermilk production. Drinking “the real thing,” a beverage historically created from the fermented milk left over after butter is churned, is something entirely different, they say.
Buttermilk tenderizes the gluten in flour and helps with rise when mixed with baking soda, making it ideal as a milk substitute in pancakes, biscuits and other baked goods. It has long been used as a marinade-prep for frying chicken, but it has also gained popularity as a marinade for red meat and as a fish poaching liquid, too.
Marzetti® Buttermilk Ranch Dressing is made with real buttermilk, oil, a touch of garlic, onion, parsley and black pepper. It tastes terrific on its own or mixed into recipes. It’s available in single serve pouches, cups, gallons and as a dry mix.
Southern Foodways Alliance’s video: Buttermilk: It Can Help, features the Cruze family farm, located outside Knoxville, Tennessee, which produces more than 4,000 gallons of buttermilk a week.
New York Times’ article: “Buttermilk, Often Maligned, Begins to Get Its Due”
Nation’s Restaurant News article: “Buttermilk Churns Up Menu Excitement”
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