How To Make Your Own Buttermilk and Sour Cream


How to make Buttermilk and Sour Cream

A lesson in Kitchen microbiology

Guest post: by Christine Coburn

Have you ever tried to make something and it called for buttermilk? Of course there is the old standby of adding vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk and letting it clabber. That just isn’t as good as that nice thick stuff they sell at the store, nor is it any good for the late night southern treat of buttermilk poured over cornbread, crackers or biscuits. Then of course in many areas of our country stores do not even sell buttermilk or it is very hard to find. The south it is pretty common but in the north? Many recipes call for buttermilk: Pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, etc.

Once you have started your buttermilk it is as easy as keeping a batch going in your fridge indefinitely. Just make sure you save 12 oz of the cultured buttermilk to add to 32 ounces of fresh milk for the next batch.

Here in Northwest Arkansas a quart of Buttermilk at Wal-Mart is $1.57, which would equal $6.28 a gallon and a gallon of regular milk is $2.75. If you have a cow then the price would be that much better! So we can get over the sticker shock of $6.28 a gallon by making it ourselves for the cost of a gallon of regular milk.


Different kinds of Buttermilk

Old Fashioned Buttermilk is the left over fluid from when you make butter, hence the term “Buttermilk”. It will have small chunks of butter in a tart whitish fluid. As you churn your butter it creates a lump of butter. Once it is drained and dried what is left is old fashioned buttermilk.

Cultured Buttermilk (store bought Buttermilk) is made with a culture of Streptococcus Lactis. The fresh milk is the growing medium for these beneficial bacteria. You will need to inoculate your fresh milk (medium) with cultured buttermilk (bacterial start) and allow it to grow at room temperature.


Definitions to help explain:

Bacteria: is a micro-organism. We all know about the nasty ones that make us sick. There are however good ones that do a job for us. We have all heard that streptococcus causes strep throat. No fears the term Streptococcus means that it is a type of bacteria that resembles little balls (cocci) under a microscope and is in the strep family. The last word Lactis is what determines the strain of streptococcus it is. Strep throat is caused by “Group A Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus” (GAS), see the difference in the name? And there is a huge difference in the type of bacteria. So don’t worry you won’t catch “strep throat” from this.

Medium: This is whatever you put the bacteria in to grow. In a lab it would be a Petri dish with some kind of gelled medium like chicken broth. In our kitchen lab it is fresh milk, it can be raw or pasteurized (store bought)

Inoculate: This is to introduce a starting batch of bacteria into your growing medium.


How to make Buttermilk

First you will have to buy 1 pint or quart of buttermilk at the store in order to get your bacterial start. If you keep it going then it will be the last time you have to buy it.

You will need fresh milk (regular whole milk tastes best) and a glass jar with a lid. I like ½ gallon or 1 gallon jars.

Measure 12 ounces of buttermilk and pour into the jar. Then if you have a ½ gallon jar fill it to the top with fresh (sweet) milk. If you are using a gallon jar than measure 2 quarts of milk. Add to the jar with your starting culture. You are inoculating your fresh milk with the culture at this time.

Screw the lid on tightly and shake it up. Now leave it sitting on your counter either over night or all day. It should clabber in 12-16 hours. As the bacteria multiply and grow, you will start to notice the milk beginning to clabber. Usually it is separated more but my hubby got into it last night and shook it up for his cornbread and buttermilk snack.


When you shake the jar it will coat the inside with a smooth white coating. That is when it is done. See how it coats the side of the glass.


Place the jar in the fridge at this time. If you notice the buttermilk separating and looking curdled it is fine just shake it up.


How to make Sour Cream

Sour cream is made the same way except using heavy cream instead of milk. You would combine 4 oz of buttermilk to 12 ounces of heavy cream. Leave it sitting on the counter. Instead of clabbering and separating it will get thick. When it is ready you will not be able to shake it but instead will have to stir it. I like it creamy like in the picture below.




Ranch dip:
12 ounces sour cream
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 tablespoon dried chives
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix together and enjoy


Cornbread with buttermilk:
This is a light and fluffy corn bread that is a favorite in my family

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¼ cup melted bacon grease or oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs

Spray 9×9 pan with cooking spray. Mix all ingredients together and pour into pan. Bake at 450 until golden brown and the edges pull away from the pan.



Bacon cornbread: crumble a couple slices of crisp bacon into the batter

Mexican Cornbread: Add chopped onions, whole kernel corn and chopped peppers to taste

Muffins: Pour into muffin tins instead of a pan

Onion Cheese: Add ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese and 3 chopped green onions

Southern Midnight snack: break up cornbread into a cup and cover with buttermilk. Enjoy!!


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  1. Thanks for the tips. Still in shock that your regular milk is priced at 2.75. In mid Missouri we are at 3.85 to 4.10 a gallon of regular milk.

    1. When Wal-Mart opened the two new mini stores in Gentry and Gravette the Dollar General dropped their milk to $2 a gallon. It was like that for almost 6 months and just a few weeks ago went up to $2.75. It is $2.88 in Siloam Springs. I guess it helps being in the home area of Wal-Mart…

  2. @BI I have never tried cornbread with nutmeg. I use a LOT of nutmeg though. I put it into my seasoned flour when I fry chicken or pork chops, It is way yummy. My motto has always been “If they can, then I can” I believe in everything from scratch if at all possible. Today I made beef pies with potatoes. I made 4 cooked one and froze 3 for later. I was determined to be able to keep buttermilk for my hubby cuz he loves it and I could not afford to buy it at the outrageous prices. I love to cook with it pancakes, biscuts, fried chicken, cornbread, you name it…
    I was a science major in college and loved my micro class so I understood the basics of innoculating and culturing. I knew the buttermilk from the store was cultured. So my kitchen became my lab… I have a half gallon sitting on the counter right now that I just mixed…
    Thank you for the comment… It is comments like yours that keep me wanting to write…

  3. What we are making here is cultured buttermilk. The original kind is made from churning butter. The fats become butter and the liquid is buttermilk.
    Try it at home. Put some heavy cream in a Mason jar and shake for 15 minutes.
    Butter and buttermilk. the old fashioned way. Try it. It’s fun.

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