One of our most treasured traditions is churning butter and it’s one that thankfully is being kept alive by Will and Alison Abernethy in Dromara, County Down. They make pure butter from Lisburn dairy Draynes Farm cream, on their farm and then send it to good local restaurants and other illustrious addresses like Fortnum and Mason in London and to the establishments of household culinary names like Heston Blumenthal and Marcus Waring. When you make butter, you’re left with proper buttermilk, a watery liquid, flecked with tiny, golden nuggets of fat. Unfortunately environmental health don’t allow the Abernethys to sell on this fabulous liquid as they say it needs to be pasteurised again. While I appreciate their attention to the nation’s health, but maybe we need to reinject a bit of common sense to our eating. We are all deficient in good bacteria in this country. We are overly concerned with temperature records and the over zealous use of sanitiser and yet the instances of food poisoning are on the rise, probably due to weakening immune systems.

When I watch cheesemakers in Italy, stirring milk over an open flame and then mixing it with an unsanitised stick, hanging to the wall, I wonder why we couldn’t apply a bit of this logic here. Seamus Heaney describes a similar scene in his poem “Churning Day”,

“Cool, porous earthenware fermented the buttermilk for churning day,the staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned in deal wood was plunged in, the lid fitted”

Italians live longer than any other European nation so maybe its time we got back to basics again, like them,  and got a bit of bacteria back into our lives! Older people recall drinking buttermilk and it being one of the best things for your health and I’m inclined to agree.

If you’re not churning your own butter you could make your own buttermilk plant. My Granny used to have one of these that she fed religiously and used to make wheaten bread. Claire Kelly of the fabulous Passion Preserve label ( you’ll find her chutneys in Arcadia Deli on the Lisburn Road in Belfast or suss her out at country fairs) gave me a gift of a buttermilk plant at Comber potato festival and I’ve been using it and replenishing it since. To make your own, mix 25g fresh yeast ( ask your local bakery) with 25g sugar and a litre of tepid milk. Place in a scalded crock and leave in a warm place to ferment. When it smells like buttermilk strain the liquid off and use. Pour tepid water over the lumps in the strainer to wash. Put back in the crock, and add more milk to make more buttermilk.

I’ve included a couple of recipes for using buttermilk this week and two of them are savoury. Marinating chicken in buttermilk flavours and tenderises it. The recipe is for fried chicken which is surprisingly also delicious served cold for a picnic. There’s a slaw to go with it with a little buttermilk in the dressing to give it a bit of zing. The recipe for buttermilk cream is one I served at a dinner for Darina Allen when she was in Northern Ireland recently and she loved it! Serve it simply with seasonal berries.


Buttermilk fried chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts, preferably skin on
  • 450ml buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh picked thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh picked rosemary leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • about 250g plain flour

Broighter gold rapeseed oil for frying ( you could use regular cooking oil but you wouldn’t get the great golden glow this oil gives!)

Mix the herbs with the garlic and buttermilk.

Add the chicken, mix well and cover. Marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Heat about half a thumb depth of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When a piece of bread sizzles when you add it to the pan you’ll know its ready.

Mix the flour with the paprika and salt and pepper.

Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and dredge in the oil.

Place the chicken in the oil and cook for about 15 minutes, turning constantly until golden and crisp and cooked through.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve with the slaw.


Buttermilk Slaw

  • 1 small hard white cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 100ml mayonnaise
  • 50ml buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon American mustard

Quarter and core the cabbage and slice as thinly as you can.

Peel and coarsely grate the carrots and mix in with the cabbage.

Peel and slice the onions as thinly as you can. Mix in.

Toast the mustard seeds in a dry pan until they pop and place in a bowl with the red wine vinegar, honey and mustard. Whisk in the mayonnaise and buttermilk. Add the scallions and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix into the cabbage mixture well.


Buttermilk Cream

  • 100ml whole milk
  • 120g castor sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 375ml buttermilk
  • 125ml lightly whipped cream

Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes.

Boil the milk, sugar and vanilla until the sugar has dissolved.

Squeeze water from the gelatine and add to the hot milk.

Cool and add the buttermilk.

Fold in the cream.

Pour into moulds and chill until firm.

Dip the bottom of mould in hot water and lift out on to plates.

Serve with fresh local berries.

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