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What is Clabbered Milk?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Clabbered milk, a naturally soured dairy product, has been a staple in diets for centuries. According to Cultures for Health, this thick, tangy milk is traditionally made by allowing raw milk to ferment at room temperature, resulting in a rich texture and flavor. While often equated with buttermilk in grocery stores, true clabbered milk offers a unique taste profile. The Dairy Council of California notes that cultured dairy products like clabbered milk are not only cherished for their culinary versatility but also for their potential health benefits, including probiotics. For those seeking authenticity or specific dietary needs, homemade clabbered milk remains an option, with pasteurized versions widely available for convenience and safety.

The word "clabber" comes from the Irish language, and it means "to thicken." If clabbered milk is allowed to thicken long enough, it becomes clotted cream, a popular spread from scones in many parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. This cultured milk can also be drunk straight, plain or flavored, and it is especially popular in the American South over ice. Because clabbered milk is more shelf-stable than regular milk, it is often the milk product of choice in areas with spotty or no refrigeration, and for much of the world, fresh milk is a relatively recent delicacy.

Traditionally, clabbered milk is made by allowing raw milk to stand until it has thickened, a process which takes 24-48 hours. The milk is also typically kept warm, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria. As it thickens, the acidity of the milk increases, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and creating a very distinctive tang which many people greatly enjoy. Once the milk has clabbered, it can be refrigerated and then used in an assortment of recipes; it will act as a rising agent, making baked goods lighter and fluffier.

Modern clabbered milk is often made with milk which has been pasteurized. Although this milk will be safer to drink, it may be lacking in beneficial bacteria, because the pasteurization has killed off much of the good bacteria in the milk. This version is often available for sale in stores. You can use it to make your own clabbered milk at home, introducing a small amount to a clean jar as a starter culture, adding pasteurized milk, and then allowing it to ferment.

You can also make a substitute for this ingredient by adding an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice directly to either raw or pasteurized milk, in a ratio of one and one half teaspoons to every cup. While this version will not be as rich and flavorful, it will have the tangy flavor and slightly curdled texture of traditional clabbered milk, and it clabbers much more quickly, which can be handy in a pinch.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon991799 — On Jul 19, 2015

Aanon202431 is wrong about dairies. I grew up on a dairy farm and every one had a milk inspector and milk was sold for pasteurization. We drank our milk out of the sale tank and it was clean as was the process. Raw is better I believe, but not because it is cleaner.

By anon954824 — On Jun 04, 2014

Buttermilk is the liquid that separates from cream when the cream fat globules stick together and form a butter mass.

By anon340271 — On Jul 01, 2013

Nina's daughter's mom had the best, fluffy, light biscuits. Although I watched her make them, I could never make them like hers. Today my daughter used milk that had spoiled. She was going to throw out her macaroni and cheese. I told her that her grandmother used that in her biscuits, and comes the dawn: that was her secret ingredient.

By anon228223 — On Nov 07, 2011

I agree with 50186. Clabbered milk is most like yogurt. I grew up in the south and mom used large crockery to store the milk in the dark cabinet until it "clabbered" then we, too had it over cornbread. Best snack anytime!

Now, to clear up (from my perspective) what is left after churning butter. 150014 tells it like it is. We would ever so gently scrap the cream that had risen to the top of sweet milk off into a jar with a lid.

We (the kids) would then shake, shake, shake until the ball of butter would form. What is left in the jar after you remove the ball of butter would be what my mom referred to as skimmed milk which she would use in her baking.

By ChefJem — On Aug 29, 2011

Clabbered milk has a wonderful history and I love to support the awareness of this great traditional food!

I have a DVD titled: "Raw Milk: The Whole Truth" that includes an informative history of milk and so much more!

It is educational conversation between Organic Pastures, all raw, grass-fed dairy founder: Mark McAfee and Dr. Dale Jacobson (D.C.) who was originally inspired by Dr. Bernard Jensen who became known as the doctor who could "raise the dead" with goat milk!

By anon202431 — On Aug 02, 2011

You all need to read the literature concerning all types of milk online.

No, what's left after churning butter isn't the same as the buttermilk from the store (which is cultured buttermilk) but it is the real buttermilk as it used to be in days of old.

Real, raw milk does not "spoil". It sours. Pasteurized milk spoils and really putrifies, whereas the more sour raw milk gets, the better it is for you because it's full of enzymes and probiotics.

And, I'm sorry to tell the wise geek GEEKS but no, do your homework. Raw milk is not "more dangerous than pasteurized milk". Pasteurized milk has had more deaths attributed to it than raw milk, by far. In fact, there was just a new study out on this as of yesterday. People have been sickened from spinach, sprouts and a few other goodies over the past several years and I don't see anyone condemning those foods as "dangerous" once the scare passed.

The farmers who milk for pasteurization purposes are filthy. They figure the heating process will kill off any germs that might accumulate from their laziness in keeping things clean, but they are wrong. Farmers who have raw milk cows are clean, as a rule, because there will be nothing but milk to depend on as the end product.

Sounds to me like all of you could use an education in the different types of milk. Goat milk and donkey milk are the two milks closest to human milk and people are rarely, if ever, allergic to them. Don't believe me? Look it up. You can find anything on the internet.

By anon150014 — On Feb 06, 2011

Buttermilk IS the product left after churning clabbered milk to extract the butter. I don't have to ask "grandma." I am a 77 year old southerner and I have done it all myself.

You take sweet milk just as it comes from the cow. Let it sit in a warm place for a couple of days or until the cream is all on the top and beneath the cream the milk has the consistency of Jell-O. Then churn it. (No churn? Just agitate until all the cream coalesces into a blob of soft butter. You can put it in a closed jar and shake it and shake it, and shake it.) Remove the butter and what is left is buttermilk.

If you save the butter, be sure to work out all the milk. You can then rinse with cold water and work out all the water again and repeat until the water runs clear and butter left without water and fairly firm. Salt if desired.

By anon100993 — On Aug 01, 2010

Buttermilk as it is known in the U.S. is not clabbered milk. It's not even close. Clabbered milk is basically milk that's allowed to spoil, sour, and curdle in a controlled manner. Again, it is *not* buttermilk.

By anon78691 — On Apr 19, 2010

From the description, it sounds like clabbered milk is the same as buttermilk. At least the southern meaning of buttermilk.

I grew up eating buttermilk poured over cornbread. The best breakfast ever!

One time, I asked my mom what buttermilk was and she said it was soured milk. Anyway, this milk was thick and sometimes had a couple lumps in it and was very tangy. It's not the buttermilk that everyone thinks of that is left over from making butter.

When I first heard it used that way I thought, 'That's not buttermilk!" So, yes, clabbered milk is like buttermilk.

By anon64214 — On Feb 05, 2010

"Butter Milk" is just that -- the milk left behind while making butter. It does taste nice. The stuff in stores is pretty miserable.

The description of clabbered milk sounds quite like what I make with kefir grains. It is quite tangy (an acquired taste for an American).

I looked up "clabbered" while watching "Rooster Cogburn". "A man has clabbered for brains if he works for a woman."

By anon50186 — On Oct 26, 2009

"Clabbered milk" is not the same as traditional Buttered Milk.

Butter Milk is the natural process whereby the pure cream(butter) forms in the fresh milk when it sets for a while. You can't find the real "Butter Milk" in stores. It is only produced from "fresh milk" (not pasturized).

Clabbered milk is the results of the milk being left out and allowed to "sour" and 'think'. I would be more inclined to compare clabbered milk to yogurt because of the 'sour" taste.

Fresh "Butter Milk" is sweet.


Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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