Monday, October 22, 2012


There was a time when Grandmas were dominating the kitchens providing unique traditional foods made from good quality ingredients and coaxing the best flavor through age old proven and tested cooking methods. One can only be nostalgic about those days after the emergence of modern food processing industry which dominates the market through thousands of commercial products which many old times feel have neither "life" not nutrition in them. A new trend seems to be emerging where people are increasingly turning to the past for really enjoying the food they consume every day. Hot bread shops, kettle fried potato chips, old style counterparts of some of the popular modern day products, sun dried fruits and vegetables, etc which are appearing in the market are real manifestation of such a change. Latest to hit the market is Buttermilk which was considered a dairy industry waste recently being brought to the market in beverage format, promoting it for its unique flavor, taste and mouth feel. According to historians Butter milk was a common product in the diet of American families till the middle of the last century and started its decline after the advent of modern large scale dairy processing plants and probably the revival of Butter milk owes it to small scale milk processors who find it easy to make and market in nearby markets. Here is a report on this new trend.

"Today, Kate's produces more than a million pounds of butter a year, all from the same tiny garage. And last year, the company became the first large-scale bottler of a dairy product that has almost disappeared from American tables:real buttermilk, the creamy liquid that remains in the churn after the butter comes together. "People have no idea how good this stuff is, but they are about to find out," said Mr. Patry, 62, who is possibly the most optimistic and talkative native Mainer in history. Many home cooks keep buttermilk on hand for pancakes, ranch dressing or corn bread. They might know that it makes more tender cakes (because it softens the gluten in flour), loftier biscuits (its acid boosts leaveners like baking soda and baking powder) and thicker dressings (lactic acid in buttermilk gently curdles proteins into a smooth mass). But what few cooks know is that commercial buttermilk isn't really buttermilk. It is made from regular low-fat or skim milk, usually low-grade rejects from cheese and butter companies. The milk is inoculated with cultures to make it acidic, and thickened with additives like locust bean gum and carrageenan. The result is a flattened facsimile of the real thing, as a ring tone is to a song. There's nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn't want to drink it," said Diane St. Clair, a dairy farmer in Vermont who, like many of her peers, prefers the tart, light, yet rich flavor of genuine buttermilk. That's what poured out of the bottom of Mr. Patry's churn at 6:45 on a recent morning. Real buttermilk is what's left of heavy cream once it has been churned (here, knocked around 1,000 pounds at a time, dropping from top to bottom of a 13-foot-high butter churn with great thwacks and thumps) to break its natural emulsification. In the process, the fat globules are cracked open to release yellow butterfat, which clumps together into butter. The liquid that remains is buttermilk: naturally defatted milk, with microscopic traces of butter that leave a haunting, rich flavor and a creamy mouth feel. Real buttermilk contains natural diacetyl, the same compound that makes melted butter so aromatic and infuses some Chardonnays with buttery flavors. "My buttermilk has pieces of butter floating in it, which it's probably not supposed to," said Ms. St. Clair, who has a herd of eight Jersey cows at her farm (called Animal Farm and located in the town of Orwell, Vt.), and makes butter and buttermilk for the chef Thomas Keller's restaurants. "But it certainly tastes good that way." She, Mr. Patry and a few other dedicated dairy producers here and in the South have just begun to bring old-school buttermilk to green markets and groceries, as small-scale bottling operations become more affordable. Their efforts fit neatly into several culinary trends: working with traditional agricultural products, and embracing the once-rejected byproducts and odd bits of favored ingredients. Buttermilk even manages to represent both the American South and Scandinavia, two of the liveliest influences in food today. Ambitious chefs all over are suddenly wallowing in buttermilk. In New York City alone, Roberto Mirarchi is saucing earthy sweet potatoes with tangy buttermilk at Blanca; Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 glazes sweetbreads with nasturtium-infused buttermilk; and the young gun Matthew Lightner strains the stuff till thick and uses it to fill crisp-fried sunchoke skins at Atera".
In India even today Buttermilk is consumed in significant quantities in some parts of the country. In Gujarat, diluted Butter milk, going by the local name "Chaas" is a must during lunch while it is one of the most consumed summer drinks popular in the northern region. Use of Butter milk as an ingredient in some foods including bakery products is still prevalent in the West but probably this is not really the same as the traditional product because it is made more often from low fat or skim milk rather than the left over by-product of churning cultured, fermented curd preparation. Interestingly the AMUL cooperative is marketing a standardized spiced version of Buttermilk in Tetrapack format but its marketing is not very much focused with the product availability limited to some outlets, that too occasionally. As for the future of Butter milk in America, same is likely to be very encouraging considering that farmers' markets and locally produced foods are increasingly being patronized by more and more people and small scale Butter milk producers located in these areas can find a ready market for their "original" product.


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