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The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from a Small Vermont Dairy

The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from a Small Vermont Dairy

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The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections from a Small Vermont Dairy

3/5 (3 evaluări)
376 pages
3 hours
Jun 4, 2013


“Since I met Diane over a decade ago, she has shown an unwavering dedication to her family, to her farm and livestock, and most important to the quality of butter she produces on a daily basis. And over the years, she has given me a new understanding of, and appreciation for, commitment. As with anything she undertakes, The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook is a product of thought and care.Through her recipes, devoted entirely to what she describes as the ‘elixir of the human race,’ Diane draws you into the rhythms of life on a farm. It is all at once introspective and celebratory. It is a lifefilled with respect.”
—Thomas Keller, The French Laundry

“The first time I tasted Diane’s butter, I was blown away. And when I later sampled her buttermilk, it was a revelation: gorgeous globs of that golden butter suspended in creamy, tangy buttermilk. Of course I wanted to put it in everything! From the moment I met Diane, I’ve been in awe of her vision, passion, and dedication. Milking cows at dawn during those Vermont winters is not for the faint of heart! She set out to do something her way—making farmstead butter and real buttermilk—and has succeeded brilliantly. I’ve been lucky enough to not only know Diane, but to have visited her farm and have her cook for me—an absolute treat. She claims the dishes are simple, but those meals have become some of my favorite food memories and I always find myself eating long after becoming full at her table because everything is so delicious. This book beautifully shares both her life as a dairy farmer and artisan, and many of her incredible recipes, and will have you seeking out great buttermilk to cook and bake all year round.”
—Barbara Lynch, chef/founder, Barbara Lynch Gruppo

For anyone who’s enjoying a return to real food, true buttermilk remains one of the great, undiscovered pleasures. Many people enjoy organic produce, grass-fed meats, and artisan breads, but “real”
dairy has been slower to reach a wide market. In fact, dairy products have long been pasteurized and homogenized into bland tastelessness, with no regard to where the product came from or how it was made.

On Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont, Diane St. Clair takes butter and buttermilk production to a new level. The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook explains her techniques, from animal husbandry and land management, to her creamery processes. Here you’ll learn how to make your own butter and buttermilk at home, and then experiment with the fabulous ways in which buttermilk enhances food flavors and textures.

You’ll also find practical but unique recipes for using buttermilk—everything from buttermilk doughnuts dipped in maple syrup, to salmon chowder, buttermilk ricotta gnocchi, and harissa buttermilk
salad dressing. Families will love the buttermilk béchamel pizza, the spicy buttermilk gingerbread, and pork chops smothered in buttermilk sauce. Buttermilk is not just for waffles anymore—although
the best waffle recipe you’ll ever find is in this book!
Jun 4, 2013

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The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook - Diane St. Clair


all about buttermilk

Buttermilk . . . what is it about this tart, creamy drink that makes it so special? In Sanskrit it has its own name, takra, and in Ayurvedic medicine, as nectar is the elixir of the gods, buttermilk is considered such for humans. Most cultures around the world have some version of this milk that is soured by lactic acid bacteria. Whether mashed into Irish potatoes, blended into Russian borsch, mixed into the thick Indian kadhi vegetable stew, or creamed into potatoes and fried to make a Dutch doughnut-like treat, buttermilk has its place in international cooking and traditions.

I came to love buttermilk as a tangy, cool summer drink after spending summers with my Austrian grandparents, who had a log cabin in New York’s Catskill Mountains. There was a little general store at the end of our dirt road, and my big job, at the age of seven or eight, was to take fifty cents and walk to the store every day to get a fresh quart of the wonderful drink. My grandfather would sneak a taste right from the container when he came in from gardening and my grandmother wasn’t looking. We mixed buttermilk with sour cream and a little sugar and then covered the blueberries and raspberries we had just picked in the mountains with the luscious, tart cream—much better than ice cream! My grandmother mixed buttermilk into her beet soup, added it to crusts for extra flakiness when baking blueberry pies, and mixed a little into mayonnaise when making egg salad to enliven the flavor. But mostly we drank the stuff, and I probably love buttermilk today because it reminds me of those wondrous summers of innocence and discovery spent with my grandparents.

Fast-forward twenty years, and in the process of baking and cooking for my own family, I discover that most buttermilk I can buy in the store decidedly does not taste like the buttermilk of my childhood years. I learn that the majority of buttermilk sold in stores today is not the buttermilk of my past, which was made at a local creamery from their churned cream. The liquid left behind after churning butter out of cream was what I had been drinking. Today, buttermilk is predominately made by taking homogenized, low-fat milk and inoculating it with a lactic acid culture to simulate that old-fashioned buttermilk.

Fast-forward another decade, and I own a farm, Jersey cows, and a creamery. During the intervening years I moved from a career in public health to being a mom with small children; and then, seeking more living space for a family busting out of a New York City apartment, as well as a slower pace of life, relocated to Vermont. The beauty of the landscape and the profound agricultural tradition that still informs life in Vermont rekindled my childhood love of working with animals and living a rural life. I found a team of draft horses, learned the craft of working them in the woods and fields, and moved to a farm. Living and farming on my own land made me realize that I could indeed eat locally (right off the farm!), raising and producing my own dairy foods, vegetables, and all sorts of meats. What I cherished about Vermont was that the do-it-yourself movement never stopped; farm families were making cheese, pickling and canning produce, and butchering their own meat while everyone else was eating TV dinners.

This was a great discovery for me. I decided it was healthier and more ethical to raise my own meat and slaughter it on our farm rather than to be a vegetarian, which I had been for twenty years. Our beautiful Jersey cow, Petra, gave us more milk than one family could consume, so I decided that there was a hole in the market for fresh farmstead butter and started making it. I quickly learned about creamery regulations, milk licenses, inspected plants, food safety, and the difficulties of being a small producer in an industry dominated by big processing facilities. Under the tutelage of patient inspectors, creative engineers, and encouraging friends, I was eventually able to open a licensed plant in which to produce my farm’s butter and buttermilk. I was fortunate to build a relationship with a generous and inspiring chef—Thomas Keller—who early on let me into his family of purveyors so that I could sell my products at the French Laundry and Per Se restaurants. Later, chef Barbara Lynch, another mentor and friend, opened her restaurant, No. 9 Park, to my small business. I have been honored to work with these extremely talented and successful individuals, who despite their lofty status are always available to lend an ear or give a bit of advice.

Now, as part of my daily processing ritual, I gently separate the cream that has risen on each day’s milk using a large ladle. I pasteurize this cream, cool it, and add a lactic acid culture to the cream. Over the course of 24 hours, the lactic acid bacteria do their magic, increasing the acidity of the cream, lowering its pH; and the casein, the primary milk protein, precipitates, causing the clabbering (souring) of the cream. This ripened cream is indeed crème fraîche, and is ready to be churned. Through churning, the cream comes; that is, the milk fats are joined, separating them from other parts of the cream. What we have in the churn are butter grains and the water-based portion of the cream—buttermilk. I am back to the buttermilk of my childhood.

It took the creation of my own farm in Vermont to rediscover so many of the lost tastes of my youth—fresh garden vegetables, high-quality meats, and dairy products that change their taste and texture with the seasons. In this book, we celebrate the many things you can do with real buttermilk—the elixir of the human race! You will learn how to make your own buttermilk and how adding it to any number of foods can enhance their flavor and texture. And finally, as my farm has its own taste of place, which is contained in all of the dairy products we make, so too does it have its own unique sense of place. Through stories about the people, animals, and traditions of the farm, you will get to know this small slice of Vermont, and my small attempt to reinvigorate artisanal dairy production.

chapter one

the basics of buttermilk

Before we talk about how you can make buttermilk in your own kitchen, let’s look more closely at how we do it on our farm. Every day, at approximately 10- to 12-hour intervals, we milk our cows. Specifically, that means we milk at around 5:30 AM and 4:00 PM. We don’t milk by hand, because that would take us hours and result in serious carpal tunnel syndrome, but we do milk each cow one at a time, using a milking machine that delivers the milk into a stainless steel dairy bucket. We then carry this bucket, which can weigh 50 pounds, into our milk room, where we dump the milk into a bulk tank, which cools the milk quickly. Cooling milk is important—it comes out of the cow at her body temperature and must be cooled as quickly as possible to 40°F or less to stop the growth of harmful bacteria.

Once the milk is cool, we let it sit still in the cooling tank until the cream has separated from the milk and risen to the top. I separate this cream layer, as mentioned earlier, with a ladle. We store the cream for 2 or 3 days, then pasteurize it, then cool it again before adding a lactic acid culture to the cream. This culturing cream sits for about 18 hours in stainless steel pails, and then it is poured into a butter churn. The resulting butter is then placed on a marble slab, where I hand-wash all the milk out of it so that it will not spoil. The buttermilk from the churn is saved to bottle later.

Compared with factory-made butter, mine is an insanely labor-intensive process, from milking the cows into a bucket to hand separating the cream with a ladle to washing the butter by hand to saving the churned buttermilk to bottle. So why do it? Because making butter and buttermilk on a small scale, on a small farm, with a small herd of cows gives you products that taste like butter and buttermilk should taste. It starts from the ground up, having the cows go out on pasture, weather permitting, to eat local grasses, flowers, and legumes. This keeps the cows active and healthy and imparts the butter with a vibrant dandelion color, a creamy texture, and a grassy, floral flavor note. Being small enables me to give each cow the attention she deserves, so that I know her overall health, the status of her milk quality, and any potential health concerns, which I can try to address before they get too quickly out of control. Being a small creamery allows me to take the time to make a product that tastes unique; I don’t use mechanical separators, and I treat the cream as gently as possible, allowing the fat globules to stay intact for as long as possible. These processing techniques allow me to make products that change with the seasons, reflecting what the cows are eating and what stage of the lactation they are in. The only standardization is that the butter and buttermilk must taste great—not that they must always taste the same.

In this chapter, I discuss how you can make butter and buttermilk for yourself, in your own kitchen. I also look at some of the basics of cooking with buttermilk and offer tips to make this process successful. Finally, I give you a peek at some of the folklore surrounding buttermilk, a drink with a rich history of use in the kitchen, in the beauty arena, and for home remedies.

making buttermilk at home

As I mentioned earlier, the buttermilk you buy at the grocery store is usually skim or low-fat milk that has been fermented or cultured with some lactic acid culture until it clabbers (sours), or becomes acidic and thick. That is totally different from taking cream and culturing it to make great golden lumps of fresh butter floating in a sea of creamy buttermilk. And yet, both are buttermilk, and more to the point, both can be made at home.

Lactic acid is a by-product naturally produced by fermenting lactose. As the natural bacteria in the milk produce lactic acid at room temperature, the pH of the milk decreases and the casein precipitates, which causes the curdling or clabbering. And that is why buttermilk is thicker than plain milk.

If the temperature in my creamery isn’t warm enough, the cream will not culture and turn into crème fraîche. Ideally, the temperature should be 68° to 70°F. If you put the milk or cream in the refrigerator, fermentation will not happen because you will have deactivated the culture. You must leave it to sit at room temperature.

Making your own buttermilk is immensely rewarding, practical, and cost-effective. If you use as much buttermilk in your cooking as I do (and after reading this book, I hope you will), then it doesn’t make sense to run to the supermarket for buttermilk all the time. You can use it more liberally—marinating chicken, making soups, scalloping potatoes—when you can readily culture a large quantity of it yourself.

First, however, you need a buttermilk culture. You can order a culture but easier than that is to begin with the best-quality buttermilk you can buy. If it’s possible to find some good buttermilk from a dairy farmer at a farmers’ market, for example, you’re in good shape. If not, look for the best-quality buttermilk you can get, perhaps from a local food co-op or health food store. Ideally, look for buttermilk with a carton indicating it contains live and active culture.

the folklore of buttermilk home remedies

Throughout history, buttermilk has been held to be a sovereign cure for a wide range of maladies. It’s hard to believe, even for someone who loves buttermilk, that one liquid could be credited with treating such a wide range of ailments. And yet, people have believed in it for hundreds, even thousands, of years. While I’m not advising or recommending any of these cures, I think you’ll join me in marveling at the traditional ways that buttermilk has been used to fight a myriad of ailments:

CANKER SORES: Hold a mouthful of buttermilk against the sore several times a day.

COLITIS: Drink a glass of buttermilk a day to soothe inflamed tissues.

DIARRHEA: Drink a cup of buttermilk mixed with ¼ teaspoon of salt three times a day.

HEAT STROKE: Drink a large glass of buttermilk before going in the sun to prevent heat stroke on a hot day.

ORAL THRUSH: Drink a few tablespoons of buttermilk morning and evening.

PARASITES: Drink three or four glasses a day to kill off stubborn parasites in the body.

SWEATING: Reduce excessive sweating over the course of several months by drinking a glass of buttermilk a day.

buttermilk plant and winter buttermilk

In traditional Irish cooking, buttermilk was never far away. It leavened the daily soda bread and served as the whet with a plate of plain potatoes and salt. But in the wintertime, when cows weren’t milking much and butter was scarce, what were a people whose food was based on buttermilk to do? Canny cooks developed a way to culture a frugal blend of milk and water with a little yeast and sugar. Maura Laverty, the Irish novelist, wrote a cookbook in 1952 called Feasting Galore Irish-Style, which included a recipe for Buttermilk Plant: a pint of tepid milk mixed with a pint of tepid water, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and a package of dry yeast, left for 2 days at room temperature in a covered container. After that, the mixture smells and tastes like buttermilk and can be used similarly. It is strained through cheesecloth, and the resulting solids—the plant—left in the cheesecloth can be added to a new mixture of milk and water to continue making buttermilk.

A buttermilk plant is demanding. It must be strained every 5 days and the container scalded. The plant scraped off the cheesecloth must itself be washed with tepid water to remove any hint of sour

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