How to Make Buttermilk

how to make buttermilk

I’m a pretty cultured person…

I might not attend any ballets, operas, or art shows, but my little homestead kitchen is packed full of cultured butter, cultured yogurt, and cultured buttermilk. That counts, right? 😉

Learning how to make buttermilk is one of the easiest things to do if you are just starting out in the world of home dairy. And real homemade buttermilk is out-of-this world.

One word of warning– once you make your first batch of homemade buttermilk, you’ll likely never be satisfied with the store-bought versions again…

If you’re smack-dab in the middle of a baking project and stumbled on this post looking for a quick buttermilk substitute, you won’t want to wait for your milk to culture. Instead, simply add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Stir. Once you see tiny curdles forming in the milk, you can use it. And then come back later to make real culture buttermilk. 😉

how to make buttermilk

How to Make Buttermilk

First, let’s set the record straight– there are actually two different kinds of buttermilk:

  • Cultured buttermilk– this is the kind we’re making today.
  • Old-Fashioned or traditional buttermilk — this is the kind resulting from making butter. (Here’s how to make your own butter. 

Although you can use both types of buttermilk to make those buttermilk biscuits or pancakes, cultured buttermilk is my favorite because it is thick and creamy and has the most delightful tangy smell.

Cultured buttermilk is also an excellent probiotic-base for your dips and salad dressings.

how to make cultured buttermilk

How to Make Buttermilk (Cultured Version)

(this post contains affiliate links)

*If using 1 cup of cultured buttermilk as your starter, reduce the amount of whole milk to 3 cups.

Gently stir the starter culture into the milk (I use a mason jar) and cover it with a towel and rubber band. Avoid capping it tightly with a lid, as the culture needs room to breathe.

Allow the milk to culture at room temperature for 12-24 hours. When it is complete, the buttermilk will be thick and have a delicious tangy smell.

Store your finished buttermilk in the fridge (it usually lasts at least several weeks for me).

how to make cultured buttermilk

Homemade Buttermilk Notes:

  • I always use my raw milk when making homemade buttermilk, although pasteurized milk will work too. Just avoid ultra-pasteurized milk (UHT) as it will produce inconsistent results.
  • Although it’s handy to buy the powdered buttermilk culture and store it in your fridge, I prefer using existing cultured buttermilk to make my fresh batches. I think it has a better tang to it.
  •  Use your tangy homemade buttermilk to create probiotic dips, dressings, and smoothies. Or, use it in your favorite baked goods–like my favorite flaky Buttermilk Biscuits.
  • If your buttermilk doesn’t thicken within 12-24 hours, it may be due to one of the following factors:
    • The starter culture was dead or inactive
    • It needs to culture a bit longer
    • Your kitchen is abnormally cold
  • If you accidentally culture your buttermilk too long, that’s OK. It’ll just be a little thicker (more like the consistency of yogurt), but it’s still totally usable.

how to make buttermilk

How to Make Sour Cream
Recipe type: Home Dairy
Serves: 1 quart
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 packet direct-set sour cream culture
  • OR ⅛th teaspoon mesophilic starter culture
  • OR 1 cup sour cream with live, active cultures
  1. Gently mix the starter culture into the cream.
  2. Cover loosely.
  3. Allow to culture at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  4. Refrigerate.
  5. It should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.


Can't Get Enough Homesteading Goodness?

Join over 67,000 others who get the weekly Homestead Toolbox delivered fresh to their inbox. It's packed full of recipes, ideas, and homesteading tips you can actually use (no fluff), plus a copy of my very popular mulch gardening how-to guide.

Let's go!


  1. Kathy Morgan says

    Silly question, but what IS “american cheese”? Is it some form of cheddar? And do you know how to make it?

      • Janine says

        Even though American cheese is a frankenfood. I grew up on it and like the flavor. I found a wonderful cookbook on Amazon called “The joy of cooking naturally” by Peggy Daeron. On page 19 there is a great American Cheese recipe made from cashews and nutritional yeas and all things healthy. I do not use garlic powder or onion powder. I use the fresh equivalent.

        Here is the recipe. In a high powered blender, place 1 cup of hot water. Add 1/3 cup unflavored gelatin and stir on low until dissolved. Pour 1 1/4 cup boiling water over soaked gelatin in blender and whiz. Cool slightly Add 2 cups raw cashews and liquefy. Then add 1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes. 1 Tbs. unbleached sea salt or Real salt. 2 tsp onion powder (or 1 Tbs fresh onion) 1/4 tsp garlic powder, (or a clove of fresh garlic) 2 tsp of paprika or 1 pimento or 1/2 large sweet pepper. Liquefy until the consistency of a creamy sauce. Makes a quart. Pour into containers that you can lower into hot water to loosen and let cheese out. before you use it. Out in fridge until it sets up before use. This can even be frozen and thawed at room temperature. It is wonderful for cheese lovers who want to avoid hormones and antibiotics. I often soak the cashews after I measure them the night before and rinse several times for a sweeter cashew and to get preservatives natural to the nuts out of them before I use them.

  2. Becki says

    If you set milk at room temp in a jar for a few days it will culture. The 1st time takes longer then you can use that as a starter to speed the process up if desired.
    The milk needs to be raw of course, but that eliminates the need to buy a starter. :)

  3. Mike says

    Not about buttermilk, but wanted to tell you that in the latest (summer) issue of Living the Country Life, there’s a great article about a couple w/ a small farm who grow lavender and make essential oil and other products from it.

    I’m not sure if it’s for sale on newsstands; I got a free subscription *somewhere* (I don’t remember, I sign up f/ a lot of freebies) In fact, I get two copies, not sure why. I set one aside to read later, then give the other one away or use it under my cat’s feed & water bowls. I’ve had this one f/ a while and just picked it up earlier to take my mind off the Cowboys game. (but they eventually won!)

    Anyway….I just checked and they have a website, but I don’t see the article “Purple Power”. They do have a link f/ a free subscription and if you can’t find the article, then I supposed I could be persuaded to send you my issue, just email me.

    Great little magazine, I enjoy it.

  4. says

    Hi –

    I love this idea however we can’t do cow’s milk in our home. Have you ever tried with goat’s milk? We have access to an organic goat farm and could possibly get raw cream. I’m really interested in making the sour cream. Thanks so much for your help.

  5. Jennifer says

    I’m lactose intolerant and wondered if you can make buttermilk and or sour cream from lactose free products.

    Thank you,

    • ThomasH says

      The fermentation process converts lactose but I do not know it the process is complete enough to make the result lactose free.

  6. says

    Thank you for this–and the perfect timing!

    Two days ago I discovered that I liked buttermilk. My grandfather used to drink it every morning with breakfast, but every time I tried to drink it (that horrible ultra-pasteurized crap from the store) I thought it was… well… vile.

    But my dairy started carrying fresh, cultured buttermilk and I bought some… and it was amazing!

    ***heads off to the kitchen to see if I can culture my own***


  7. Mary says

    Do you heat your raw milk before adding culture? What is your room temperature? Right now mine is in the 60s. Will it still ferment at a lower temp?

    • says

      Sometimes I use it straight from the cow while it’s still warm, but other times I’ve pulled it straight out of the fridge and it still has worked. It will still ferment at a lower temp, just might take a bit longer.

  8. Carol Lee says

    I made a small amount of buttermilk using 1/4 store bought cultured buttermilk and 3/4 cup 2 percent milk. The end result was a consistency a little thicker than yogurt and ever so slightly gelatinous. It smells great but I’m wondering what happened to my texture? Thanks.

  9. Gwen Swanson says


    I just love your posts and recipes. I just ordered my starters and when they come in I’ll be trying your recipes.

    Thank you!

  10. Erin says

    I have buttermilk (left over from making butter with raw cream) Can i culture that verses using milk? I’d love to be able to find more uses for this buttermilk and culturing it sounds like a great idea….in the past a lot has gone to waste ;-(

    • says

      Hmmm.. it’d be worth a try, although I can’t say I’ve ever tried it before. Another good use for that sort of buttermilk is to use it in baking.

      • Erin says

        Well I have something that is cultured but its not buttermilk lol! I think i will put it on my dog’s food!

  11. bella J says

    would love to try the sour cream but was wondering if you have tried it with half & half instead of heavy cream which would make it less rich…

  12. Jenny says

    I tried using the leftover buttermilk from making butter with raw milk to make the cultured buttermilk. It’s been on the counter tightly closed for over 24 hours but hasn’t thickened to coat the jar. Is it bad?

  13. says

    Before I got the recipes to make my own buttermilk and yogurt, I bought my buttermilk and yogurt at the store. I blended them together and it came out a tasty drink. The blended drink is better tasting than either of them taken separately. And, you can make a small amount at one time instead of a large batch. Just a thought.

  14. says

    I noticed you used a marker to write directly onto your mason jar, instead of a sticky label. Does that come off when you handle it or wash it?

  15. Kelly says

    I saw the directions on the culture starter website said to heat the milk or cream. Do you have to do that with your method? I’m pretty new to this and would love to try it out .

  16. says

    I’m trying to figure out if I can culture sour cream and buttermilk next to each other or if they will cross-culture.

  17. Melanie Kennedy says

    I have a question. I live in a place where buttermilk is not commercially available, but sour cream is, and I see that the same culture (purchased) was used above to make both. Is it possible to make buttermilk with whole milk and a small ammount of cultured sour cream? Buttermilk is a must for my fried green tomatoes and fried chicken, and I can’t live without it!!! lol

  18. Steffanie says

    I just finished making my buttermilk, it turned out beautifully. Now I’m making sweet cream butter and I immaculated some cream for cultured butter tomorrow. Thank you, I just love your blog!!

      • Steffanie says

        Ok I’m working on butter now and I’m having some trouble hoping you can help. Last night I made (tried 😉 sweet cream butter and set out some cultured cream for tonight so we can taste the difference. Well neither one of the darn things will go past the whipped cream stage. I’ve used several methods; shook for 1 1/2 hours in a mason jar, used my blender, and at least 1 1/2 hrs tonight with my kitchen aid mixer. What’s wrong, what can I do to fix it?

  19. AuroraDawn says

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I was wondering, is it possible to use whey (leftover from making Greek yogurt) to culture my sour cream? And if so, what would you suggest the ratio of whey to cream would be?

  20. ThomasH says

    The links to the starter are for yogurt and Kefir. Which if either is OK to use for buttermilk ans sour cream?

  21. Kathy says

    This may be a silly question. Just wondering if it’s okay to use cold cultured buttermilk and add to cold milk? Then leave in a slightly warm oven for 24 hours? Thank you!! Looking forward to trying this!!

      • Kathy says

        Hi Jill!! It worked!!! I woke up to beautiful buttercream this morning! I’m so excited! Thank you so much for your detailed instructions and your quick response. I can’t wait to make sour cream using your instructions. Love your blog!!

          • Kathy says

            Hi Jill! I immediately used the buttermilk that I made as a starter for a new batch. The new batch thickened nicely but looked almost ‘grainy’ and not as smooth as the first batch. Is that normal? I kept all the conditions the same as the first batch.