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Buttermilk: A Tumultuous History

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In a pinch, I often sour milk with lemon juice to make my own buttermilk. We’ve all done it. But do any of us really know the history behind such a common ingredient?

The history of buttermilk is about as tumultuous as one for a dairy product can get; this week at Slate, L.V. Anderson investigates its extensive evolution. From the creamy, sweet byproduct of churning fresh milk into butter – the likes of which Laura Ingalls Wilder describes in Little House in the Big Woods – to quickbread additive, to deliberately-soured anti-aging tonic in the early 20th century, buttermilk has undergone more than a few confused identity changes.
Motivated by a kind of rite of passage, (“my ability to enjoy a glass of buttermilk at the age of 7 carried the same symbolic weight that my ability to enjoy a scotch neat does today”), Anderson attempts to find the original stuff. She decides, after multiple dead-ends, that if it were to be tasted, she had to make it herself.
Her consensus? That good, fresh buttermilk is actually kind of bland. But, as she also discovered, “higher fat content usually tastes better.” We can back her up on that one, hands down.

All Churned Around from Slate