How many of you use buttermilk in your kitchen? Cultured buttermilk is a versatile product - great for helping coat fried foods, and delicious as the liquid in baked products like biscuits and pancakes, where the acidity helps activate the leavening.
What you may not know is the commercial buttermilk you normally buy in the store isn't actually real buttermilk at all, and hasn't been for more than 60 years. When you buy a quart of "buttermilk" at the grocery store, you normally get cultured skim milk. It tastes like very thin, sharp sour cream, but it doesn't taste like real buttermilk.
Buttermilk - real, honest buttermilk - is a thin and milky liquid whey that is left over when the fat in cream has been churned into butter. The buttermilk is cultured to thicken it and develop the flavor. Just about the only way to get real buttermilk today is to own your own cow or find a specialty dairy that still produces it.
Here in New England, there is just such a dairy - Kate's Homemade Butter in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Kate's is a family-run operation, large enough to be able to distribute regionally for the northeast, but small enough to still take the time and care necessary to produce butter and buttermilk the way they once were produced by everyone.
If the only buttermilk you've ever tried has been the treated-and-thickened skim milk variety, you will be awed by the flavor difference between that and real buttermilk. Real buttermilk is not quite as thick as the manufactured variety, but it's smoother and less "grainy." Rather than the bland, sour-yogurt flavor of factory buttermilk, real buttermilk has a pleasant bite to it, a little like kefir but with a delicious butter flavor added. If you live in the Northeast, you can find Kate's at Stop & Shop (where I buy it), Hannaford, Shaw's, Big Y, Whole Foods, Roche Brothers, and Market Basket.