I’m reading a great research paper at the moment, which is a wide survey of traditionally fermented drinks from Europe – the low- and non-alcoholic ones, anyway.
We are all very familiar with Europe’s traditional alcoholic drinks like wine, vodka, whiskey, beer, brandy, cider, mead etc, but there’s a whole array of fermented drinks that are low-alcoholic and non-alcoholic too!
If you read old novels or historical mysteries, these drinks are often referred to as “small beer”, and it’s clear that often the author thinks that it’s a diluted beer of some sort. Or I’ve even read a tourist book about the Hebrides set in the 1930s in which the author wrinkled their refined English nose at the local custom of drinking “rotten milk”.
Turns out that lacto-fermenting grains, fruit-juices, sugars and milks, to get a fizzy, fermented drink that isn’t high in alcohol was a widespread custom throughout Europe, and is still carried out in kitchens across the continent.
The research paper covers so many different drinks that I can’t possibly cover them all at once. This article is just about the milk-based ferments. Look at them all! I had no idea there were so many.
How many do you recognize? Did your great-granny make any of these?
1. Milk Kefir
Probably the most well-known fermented milk drink. Milk kefir originates in the Caucasus mountains and is now consumed over much of Eastern Europe and throughout the world.
Kefir is produced by a mix of lactic acid fermentation, and the activity of yeasts giving it an effervescent, frothy texture. It can be made with any animal milk, so long as you have some kefir grains on hand.
Find out more: What is Milk Kefir?
Ready to get started?: How to Make Milk Kefir
This is a salt-containing yogurt drink usually made from cow’s milk. Ayran is consumed in Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan. It’s made from blending fresh yogurt with water and salt, and is drunk on the same day it is made. It is consumed as a refreshing drink, usually in the summer months.
3. Buttermilk (or clabbered milk)
Buttermilk is a by-product of butter production and thus is popular in regions where butter is a popular foodstuff. Traditionally, buttermilk is produced right after the cream has been churned to make butter, and the quality and components of the buttermilk depend on the cream used and how well the churning process works.
Nowadays, most butter is made from cow’s cream, but sheep have been farmed since antiquity for their milk. Thus, sheep’s buttermilk has different names in different places:
- In Russia and Bulgaria, it is urgutnik
- In Ireland it is clabber
- In Finland kirnupiima
- In Hungary sheep’s buttermilk is savanyutez.
4. Bulgarian buttermilk
This is a different drink to ‘normal’ buttermilk, discussed above. It is a cultured buttermilk, where cultures are added to milk and then it’s fermented – a similar process to making yogurt, but the bacterial culture used doesn’t thicken the milk up to a full yogurt consistency. Bulgarian buttermilk originated in Bulgaria in about AD500 and is drunk in Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Albania and Romania.
5. Acidophilus milk
Another cultured buttermilk, this is drunk in Russia, East Europe, Greece, Turkey and Scandinavia.
Very thick, viscous drink with a very mild flavor. Not a lot of whey is produced. Tätmjölk is native to most of Norway, the northern parts of Sweden, and southern and western Finland.
Made in Sweden, Surmölk is similar to Tätmjölk but has a stronger flavor.
Made from ewe’s milk, in Iceland, this is a yogurt-like drink with a rich and mild flavor. The culture is a mix of LAB, yeasts and molds.
A Finnish drink that was widespread until the 1950s, but is very rare now. Filbunke is similar to both Surmölk and Tätmjölk, but has a very thick gel-like texture.
Other milk drinks mentioned in the paper, but not explored in any great detail are:
From Scandinavia. Another ropy / viscous ferment, like the other fermented milk drinks from this region. Each of the Scandinavian ferments have a different flavor and texture.
11. Taette (or Lapp’s milk)
from Norway. Likewise, a cousin ferment to Keldermilk, Filbunke, and Skyr.
Sheep’s milk ferment from Thrace in Greece
from Turkey. Similar to Ayran.
From the Soviet Union. Like thick Greek yogurt but less sour, or like milk kefir, but thicker. (Wikipedia entry)
From Poland. A fermented whey beverage.
From Czechoslovakia and Poland. Similar to kefir.
So that’s a quick fly-over of the traditionally fermented milk drinks of Europe.
How many had you heard of??