Opinion: A history of buttermilk


Commentary by Ward Degler

Several years ago, I attended the Renaissance Fair in Shakopee, Minn. It celebrated long-forgotten skills like spinning, weaving and butter-making.

The butter maker was a young girl who pumped an old-fashioned churn handle up and down for 15 to 20 minutes and then extracted a gooey mass of yellow butter and a quart of thin, white liquid called buttermilk.

She forced the butter into a mold and then wrapped it in wax paper. The buttermilk was capped and set on a shelf. People stood in line to buy both. I bought both.

The buttermilk was bland, almost flavorless and a little sour tasting. It was awful, nothing like the buttermilk my dad brought home from the store.

My dad’s buttermilk was cultured, made from whole milk, pasteurized, homogenized and inoculated with lactic acid. It’s what you find in the dairy case at the grocery store today.

True buttermilk is hard to find. It’s the whey leftover from butter production. Today, that stuff is dried and sold to commercial bakeries as filler for bread products.

Buttermilk became a dieter’s special drink during the 1920s and peaked in 1960. Then yogurt took over, and buttermilk sales plummeted.

Maybe it’s just as well. These days, true buttermilk is the province of small farmers and DIYers. And what amounts to buttermilk remains undecided.

It could be sour milk that somebody can turn into buttermilk. It could be sour cream remaining after being churned into butter. Or it could be from fresh cream churned into butter.

Take your pick. Buttermilk still tastes awful.


Current Morning Briefing Logo

Stay CURRENT with our daily newsletter (M-F) and breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox for free!

Select list(s) to subscribe to

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact