Buttermilk: The South’s Liquid Gold

Homemade Buttermilk

What exactly is buttermilk?

Buttermilk is an essential ingredient for many of our favorite recipes, from fried chicken to cornbread. In the South, buttermilk has historically been a staple, as unrefrigerated fresh milk soured quickly in the warm environment, and buttermilk’s longer shelf life made it a more readily available source of nutrition. 

Buttermilk Cornbread
Buttermilk Cornbread

However, commercial buttermilk that we buy in the store these days is far from the original form. Real buttermilk, or what is known as traditional buttermilk, is what’s left of heavy cream once it has been churned to make butter. Naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria form, which ferment and preserve the buttermilk, giving it a longer shelf life as well as its tart taste.

Commercial buttermilk processing involves adding cultures as well as thickening agents to regular milk to try to mimic the natural version. This creates the thick substance that has gone a long way in vilifying this once important ingredient.

Luckily, traditional buttermilk is making a comeback at small dairy farms throughout the country. One of our favorites, Cruze Dairy Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee, made our Taste 50 list this year. Here, Earl Cruze and his family make churned buttermilk, and his daughter, Colleen, makes Cruze Farm Girl Ice Cream, which she sells at the Market Square Farmer’s Market in Knoxville. We’ve been known to ask anyone passing through the area to bring us a few half gallons of their creamy liquid gold.

Cruze Dairy Farm Buttermilk

Homemade Buttermilk:
Sometimes a stand-in is necessary! Have you ever started to bake a cake and discovered you were out of buttermilk? Here’s a quick substitute for commercial buttermilk:

Place 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or fresh lemon juice in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup, and fill with milk to the 1-cup line. Let stand for 5 minutes, and your homemade buttermilk is ready to use.

Enjoy A Few Of Our Favorite Buttermilk Recipes:


  1. My grandparents, in rural southeastern Alabama, used to drive way out in the country to buy buttermilk directly from the farmer who made the “best in the land”, according to them. The buttermilk actually had flecks of butter all throughout. What I would give for some buttermilk of that quality. You will always find buttermilk in my refrigerator. I use it for baking, marinades, salad dressings, glazes and any other way I can fit it in. Thanks for touting the wonders of buttermilk.


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