Why would someone routinely have leftover buttermilk in varying amounts?
I make scones every week for our local Farmer’s Market. Fresh baked every Saturday morning, 168 regular size and 48 mini scones in 6 flavors roll out of the kitchen in just under 3 hours. Customers rave about the light texture. In addition to minimal handling, using buttermilk creates a delicate, moist scone. The downside to my weekly scone habit is it doesn’t take an even amount of buttermilk. Each week takes a slightly different amount depending on the scone flavors and the moisture content of the flours. Out of a gallon of buttermilk, there is always some random bit left. If you don’t have leftover buttermilk, just purchase a quart to test this for yourself.
I hate to waste, but have few other recipes where I can use a cup to a quart of buttermilk every week. Occasionally I make biscuits, but I don’t want them every week. Then I started thinking about cheese. I love cheese and have several books about making cheese. I have made simple cheeses but always find myself running to the store to get a full gallon of whole milk. I wanted a way to just use up the leftover buttermilk plus any other half used jugs of milk taking up space in the refrigerator. Time to start experimenting with whatever amounts and kinds of milk I had on hand.
I discovered two versions that will do what I need.
1. All buttermilk.
As long as it isn’t outdated, I may save up the leftover buttermilk for a couple of weeks. When I have at least a quart, I pour it in a pan, add salt to taste, heat slowly to approximately 180 degrees. The milk will begin to separate into curds and whey. When the curd holds together and the whey is light yellow, turn off the heat. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so, then ladle into a straining cloth, hang over a bowl for 15 minutes or until it stops dripping. Easy cheese. Essentially, heat buttermilk until it separates. Nothing could be easier.
2. Buttermilk plus sweet milk.
Sometimes, I have partial jugs of milk that are nearing the expiration date, so I will use buttermilk to acidify the sweet milk and make cheese. To do this, add a cup or so of buttermilk to up to a half gallon of sweet milk, add salt to taste. Then use the same slow heat process. At about 180? the milk will separate into curds. Follow the same straining and hanging process as in #1 above. The proportions of buttermilk to sweet milk do not need to be precise. If the milk is not separating at 180º, you simply need more acid. Add lemon juice a tablespoon at a time until separation occurs.
These fresh cheeses will keep 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
Spreadable vs. Firm Cheese
One technique I stumbled upon by accident will alter the cheese into a more spreadable version. As the milk is heating, stir frequently with a slotted spoon to keep the curds smaller while cooking. After straining, this will make a spreadable, almost cream cheese texture. For a firmer cheese, only stir gently on occasion, just enough to keep the milk from scorching on the bottom.
You will find recommendations to use cheese cloth, specially made bags for straining cheese and I’ve been successful with a thin muslin. However, my best results have been from using the vegetable storage bags we received with our bookstore purchases at Mother Earth News Fairs. The bags come in several different sizes, are washable and food safe. I set the bag in a jar or bowl, ladle in the cheese, then loop the end through one of my cabinet door handles. Place a bowl underneath to catch the dripping whey and soon I have delicious fresh cheese from leftover buttermilk.
These cheeses also accept other flavors quite well. I have added cracked black pepper and smoked paprika to the milk of individual batches while heating. You could combine these or use any herbs and spices that appeal to you. I have also rolled the finished ball of cheese in minced fresh basil.
Now I enjoy fresh home-made cheese every couple of weeks with minimal fuss and use up leftovers in the process.
Julia is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm and author of Simply Delicious, a memoir of cooking. She loves to turn bits of leftovers into new tasty and beautiful offerings.
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