What should I do with the extra dried starter?
Extra dried starter should be sealed up (a zip lock style bag works well) and stored in the freezer.
How important is temperature when making buttermilk?
A temperature of 70-78°F degrees is very important for the proper development of the buttermilk bacteria. At the proper temperature, the buttermilk will consume the lactose in the milk, multiply quickly and make cultured buttermilk. If the temperature is too cold, a race develops between the buttermilk bacteria (which are slowed down due to the cooler temperature) and the milk bacteria which are multiplying quickly due to a warmer (than the refrigerator) temperature. If the milk bacteria win, they will kill the buttermilk bacteria. Even if the buttermilk bacteria prevail, the fight with the milk bacteria can damage the culture making long-term use problematic.
How will I know when my buttermilk has set?
Buttermilk which has set should be more or less uniform in appearance--one solid mass. There should not be a clear separation of curds and whey (white solid portion for the top half and clear liquid on the bottom half). The buttermilk should appear more or less smooth (before being stirred), not lumpy. If you gently tip the container, the buttermilk should pull away en mass from the side of the container (like you would expect jello to do). Click here to see what buttermilk should look like when properly set. Please note, sometimes a bit of whey will separate from the buttermilk during the culturing process. If clear liquid (whey) is present on top of the buttermilk or even a bit on the sides, this is just a normal variation. If the buttermilk has fully separated into curds and whey, that is a sign of a problem (click here for more information).
My first batch of buttermilk (using the dried starter) has been culturing for a number of hours but is still the consistency of milk. What should I do?
The amount of time necessary for our counter-top buttermilk starter to culture is very dependent on room temperature. This starter requires a room temperature of no less than 68°F with 70-78°F being preferred (be sure to take into account possible temperature fluctuations at night and whether the culture could possibly be in a draft, affected by an air conditioning unit, etc). Generally speaking, the first batch (from the dried culture) will take anywhere from 24-48 hours to set with 48 hours being far more common than 24 hours. Occasionally it can even take a bit longer than 48 hours. As long as the mixture is still the consistency of milk or thicker (and has not separated into curds and whey), you can continue to let it culture past 48 hours for up to 60 hours until it appears to be fully set.
My buttermilk didn't set properly--it separated into two layers: solid on top and liquid underneath (curds and whey). What should I do?
Separation is generally a sign that the culture has died. There are several factors that can cause this problem. The most common is exposure to heat. If culturing buttermilk is exposed to a temperature higher than the proper range (70-78F degrees), the buttermilk starter will often die. Contamination is also a potential issue. In particular a bit of soap or food residue the dishwasher may have missed can be harmful to the culture.
What to do: Use the second half of the buttermilk starter from your packet to attempt a second batch.
If for some reason this second attempt produces the same curds and whey result, please contact us. As a live culture, we find that in about 1% of cases, a starter culture will fail for an unknown reason. We suspect in many of these cases the culture may have been exposed to a source of high heat during transit but ultimately we will never know. We are happy to immediately replace the culture. Please contact us for information.
My buttermilk seems to have set but there's a little clear liquid floating on the top and the sides. Is this okay?
Yes, some separation of whey from the buttermilk is fine and is a natural variation within the culturing process. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. A full separation where the top half the jar is a white mass and the bottom half is clear liquid is a problem however (see above).