It takes a certain moxie (and plenty of vintage aprons) to convincingly preach the gospel of buttermilk. Tennessee’s Colleen Cruze is up to the challenge.
Colleen Cruze really loves buttermilk. She sips it on hot summer days, hands out shots of it at Knoxville-area farmers’ markets, and uses it to make ice cream, biscuits, and pancakes. And every now and then she even takes a bath in it. “But that takes a lot of buttermilk,” she confesses. “You can also just use it as a mask, because it makes your skin really smooth.”
Colleen was certainly born into the right family for making buttermilk. Her father, Earl, has been milking cows since he was 8 years old. Today the Cruze family raises Jersey cows the way they’ve always done—on pastures about 15 miles east of Knoxville that are free of herbicides and pesticides. They process and pasteurize bottles of real churned buttermilk, light milk, and chocolate milk. Their rich, organic ice creams are sold under the label Cruze Farm Girl Dairy in flavors such as salty caramel (the most popular) and buttermilk-lime-cardamom (Colleen’s favorite) from a tricked-out Milk Bar food truck as well as in grocery stores throughout eastern Tennessee.
Dairy farming the old-fashioned way, as Colleen has discovered, is less common than she realized. “I recently drove to Canada for a wedding, and my goal was to locate dairies along the way that were processing their own milk,” she says. “It’s almost impossible to find good buttermilk.” That’s because most dairies sell their milk in large batches to increase profits, she explains. On the other hand, producing small batches of slowly churned buttermilk allows the natural bacteria to help it develop a much richer flavor. After churning, the top layer of fat is removed. (Colleen uses that “buttermilk butter” to make biscuits.) The remaining small flecks of butter left in the milk add a luscious flavor, and the finished product has less than 2% fat.
While her ice cream is a big seller, Colleen is certain there’s also a larger, untapped audience for her butter-rich beverage. “Buttermilk fans are the same people who love yogurt,” she says. “If they just took a shot of this, they’d be hooked.”
Cruze Dairy Farm: 3200 Frazier Road, Knoxville, Tennessee or cruzefarmgirl.com