Cultured Buttermilk

Buttermilk done
Fresh buttermilk ready to enjoy

Another name for my blog could be “Self-Sufficiency for the Lazy.” I love to make staples myself, especially easy-to-throw-together ones. And buttermilk ranks up near the top on the easy–lazy scale.

But isn’t buying it easier? I don’t know about that. It takes two minutes to start buttermilk—five if I spill something on the counter and make a mess—and I use ingredients I already have on hand. Even better, I don’t throw any milk cartons in the trash. (By the way, those paper cartons are lined with plastic. And plastic never breaks down. Ever.)

To make buttermilk (I use the word “make” loosely—the buttermilk really makes itself), you do need cultured buttermilk to get started. (Make sure it’s cultured and not just flavored—the bacteria do the work.) But once you have prepared your buttermilk, you just use some of it to make the next batch. Use some of that new batch to make the next batch, and so on and so on. Theoretically, you can go on like this forever. However, stuff happens. Occasionally mine will go bad through neglect, and to get it going again, I have to either buy some buttermilk or borrow a bit from a friend and start over. I hate when this happens, so lately, I’ve cultured small amounts. 

I use my buttermilk mostly for sourdough waffles so I can use up my discarded starter (and eat absolutely delicious waffles). You can also use it to make ricotta cheese, creme fraiche, sour creme and probably lots of other things too. Or you can just drink it and reap the benefits of its live cultures.

The following recipe makes four cups.

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  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 4 cups milk (I use organic, non-homogenized Straus milk)


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1. Pour buttermilk and milk in a jar and stir or shake to combine.

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2. Place jar in a warm, draft-free spot. I put mine inside my oven. It has a pilot light, so it’s warm in there (yes, I know it’s wasteful—I didn’t choose the oven; my landlord did). In the image above, you can see the buttermilk on the left. The bowl behind it contains my sourdough waffle batter. On the right sits my sourdough starter. It’s a microbe-fest in there…

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I always leave the oven door ajar a little by stuffing one of my red oven mitts between the oven door and the oven. This warns everyone NOT to turn on the oven and kill my microbes, and the gap keeps everything in there from getting too warm.

3. Wait 24 hours. Transfer the jar to refrigerator.

That’s it. The buttermilk will keep for about two weeks.

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When it’s ready, it’s thick and sticks to a spoon as in the photo above.

18 Replies to “Cultured Buttermilk”

  1. Hello,
    Healthy for the lazy is my motto. I make my yogurt (not always a success, I need to refine my method), my crême fraiche (I am French), always a success, so I have to make my buttermilk. Anyway, could you confirm the ratio 1/2 cup of buttermilk for 4 cups of milk? Your photos show a jar that seems to contain 2 cups, so I was wandering…

    1. I like that motto 🙂 I also make yogurt and crême fraiche is on my to-do list. My daughter has made it a couple of times and it was delicious.

      Yes, that’s the right ratio for the buttermilk. I may have been out of a large jar and used the smaller one for the photo (I can’t remember). Sorry for any confusion. I’m almost out of buttermilk and will “make” some today. What do you do with yours? I use mine mostly for sourdough waffles, but my boyfriend likes to drink it.

  2. Thank you for confirming. I use buttermilk mainly for my coleslaw recipe and for pancakes. I want to try to bake buttermilk muffins where the flour stays in buttermilk for 12 to 24 hours before you make the muffins (Nourishing Traditions). The buttermilk (non homogenized, non overpasteurized, etc.) is not cheap and uses a plastic jug, so it’s time for me to make it.
    As for the creme fraiche, it is the best reward for me, I use it to add to soups, eat strawberries in the spring, with smoked salmon, and even on bread with honey. Yum!
    Looking forward to new posts.

    1. That all sounds so, so good! I better make my creme fraiche asap! I have Nourishing Traditions also and I must look up this muffin recipe. I think my kids would like buttermilk muffins and my daughter needs something for her school lunches. Muffins are perfect. The waffle batter I make soaks for about 12 hours and is very tasty. I use discarded sourdough starter to make it.

      You will definitely save money making buttermilk. I should actually mention in my posts the money-saving aspects of cooking from scratch. Let me know how you like the buttermilk and thank you for your comments 🙂

  3. Totally forgot my buttermilk for 3 days! I obtained something like cheese floating atop of whey. It smells of mild cheese so I tasted it and it’s OK. Do you think the liquid is whey? Good thing I still have enough milk and buttermilk to make another batch.

    1. I’m not sure but I would think that must be whey. When I make yogurt, lots of whey forms on top like that. Are you going to make your muffins with the buttermilk? I just made creme fraiche yesterday (you inspired me to try it). It’s totally awesome and much, much less expensive than store-bought. I’m hooked!

  4. Just started another batch of buttermilk. It will be ready tomorrow for me to soak the flour until Tuesday and make the muffins for Wednesday, 1st day of school for the children here in MA!

    1. Great! Those will be delicious and so healthy. Have a great first week back 🙂

  5. Hi there, I’ve recently used your site to make sourdough starter and your whole wheat sourdough and it was yummy!!! I’m hooked now, thanks so much. But I have a question about buttermilk. I’ve been making my own by adding lemon juice to regular milk and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes until it curdles. Can you explain to me the downside (if any) of doing it this way – just no bacteria? Does it make a difference in the outcome of the recipe? Just wondering if I absolutely have to buy some buttermilk this weekend because I want to make your sourdough waffles/pancakes with my truckload of discard, thanks :).

    1. Hi Nancy. Thanks so much for the nice comment 🙂 I am pretty sure I have made these waffles using buttermilk I had made with milk and lemon juice. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work. You should be fine. These are a really delicious way to use up all that discard. It really piles up! Have a nice weekend. ~ Anne Marie

      1. Thank you, Anne Marie!! That’s great to hear :). Is it okay to use discard in my fridge that has dark fluid on top? I read that you can just pour it off, but do you think it will still be okay in the pancake recipe? I actually just noticed you have a separate recipe for pancakes on your blog. Do you prefer that recipe or using the waffle batter recipe to make pancakes? Thanks so much!!!

      2. You’re welcome 🙂

        That’s hooch. It’s grey and I just pour it off when it appears. I usually don’t have a ton of it. Underneath the starter is okay. It might be a bit tangy but you add fresh flour to the batter so that kind of reduces the tang I find.

        I use the pancake recipe ALL the time (I made them this morning). The reason I prefer that one for making pancakes is it’s way easier. I can make them quickly and don’t have to plan ahead. Enjoy!

  6. Thank you for replying so quickly! I have so much starter, while I was waiting for your reply I decided what the heck, I’ll try both…and I got the waffle recipe going first since that required overnight soaking for the sponge and then thought I’ll try the other pancake recipe later on the fly. I just have so much discard!! I have a question regarding that recipe, so I’ll go ahead and post it there in case it helps others :).

  7. Tracey Glenn says: Reply

    Like a good book I cant put down, I am fascinated with your website!! But since you have cultured so many things, why not vegan buttermilk? There is a large amount of waste in dairy farming. Cutting down on dairy is a positive thing for all of us!! Thank you for sharing such great information and lessons and for making the world a better place! You are truly inspiring : )

  8. forloveandoysters says: Reply

    Could I cut this recipe in half with the same results? I imagine it would be fine, but was wondering if you’ve ever made a smaller amount of buttermilk using only 1/4 cup?

    1. Absolutely, you can make less. Right now I am making very small amounts just to keep it going, about 1/2 cup total. If I need more for a recipe, I’ll make it the day before.

  9. Carol Strozier says: Reply

    What reason do you think there could be for my latest buttermilk failure?

  10. what if you don’t have cultured buttermilk?

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