ancestral fermentation: clabbered raw milk

One of the themes I hope to capture in this Ancestral Fermentation series is the simplicity of cultured foods. Specifically, I want to emphasize how our ancestors continually made and ate cultured foods without any modern tools or specific cultures.

An example of this is the difference between cultured yogurt and clabbered raw milk. When we culture yogurt we use a starter that contains specific strains of bacteria that we wish to inoculate the milk with. This gives us a fairly consistent end result, which many today prefer since that is what we’re used to in store-bought products.

And then, as is the case with clabbered milk, there is what I call wild fermentation. These processes use the wild bacteria and yeasts – present in the environment or the fresh food itself – and create a cultured product.

Clabbered milk was eaten throughout various cultures and probably since the dawn of milk animals. It is, arguably, the easiest cultured milk product and you can make it right in your own kitchen.

At its most basic, clabbered milk can be made by allowing fresh, unpasteurized milk to sour and thicken. You absolutely must use raw, unpasteurized milk to make true and safe clabbered milk. Pasteurized milk does not contain the beneficial bacteria necessary for the culturing process to work and form a soured milk. Instead, you end up with putrid, rotten milk.

So, the only ingredient you need is unpasteurized milk.

The only instructions you need are to let it sit out at room temperature with a loose-fitting lid on it until it clabbers.

But here are a few more specifics:

  • The lid could be a canning jar lid that you simply place atop your jar of milk, or you could use a tea towel or coffee filter with a canning ring.
  • The time it takes your milk to clabber, or become sour from the lactic acid naturally produced, can be anywhere from 1-5 days, depending on the temperature at which you allow it to clabber and the bacteria within the milk. It is done when it has congealed, or separated into curds and whey.
  • Once it is soured to your liking you can strain off a bit of the whey by pouring the curds and whey into a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl or sink. The more you drain it, the thicker it will become.
  • One thing you can do, to both speed up the souring process and capture a good-tasting batch of clabber, is to save a few spoonfuls from that batch and plop it into the milk for the next batch.
  • You can make sour cream with this very same method. Simply use freshly skimmed cream instead of whole milk.

Traditionally, clabber has been eaten for breakfast with sweeteners and spices. It can also be used for baking or to make thick spreads and dips or even raw cottage cheese.

The beauty of clabber is in the simplistic nature of the process. Not only are no specific cultures required to make this cultured milk, but the natural souring process allows you to keep milk for days longer before consuming, and without refrigeration.

Which is probably exactly why our ancestors made it and ate it on a regular basis.

Have you tried clabbering milk?


Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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  1. says

    Some of the best hard and soft goat milk cheeses I’ve made started with naturally clabbered milk. Oh, how I love milk! I really, really love milk! Did I mention I love milk???

  2. robbin melton says

    We drink raw milk and since my partner’s of French ancestry, we’re planning on trying this to work toward a cream fraiche! Thanks!

  3. Krista says

    “Have you tried clabbering milk?”

    Yes. It separated. And smelled kind of… cowish, for the lack of a better word. IT didn’t taste nice either. I used “bath milk” that was on sale because of the useby date, tried clabbering it in a pot with a lid on. Maybe that was the issue?

    If I find more of the bath milk on sale, I might try again, only cover it with a tea towel.

  4. Andrea says

    I make clabbered milk because of the pure simplicity of it. It got to be just one more thing to remember and do to feed my yogurt mother and make a fresh batch each week. Can I use this whey for my other ferments like one does with yogurt whey, I.e. beet kavas, pickles, fruit chutneys…?

    • msmyth says

      You can get around that 😉 just talk to your local farmers. Also– and click on other countries->Canada


  5. says

    My first dairy cow ever freshened just last week and I’m getting 3 gallons of milk a day, share milking with the calf. Since my milk refrigerator hasn’t arrived yet, and my house refrigerator is FULL already – I’m clabbering! I simply strain the raw milk into a large stock pot and cover it with a clean dishtowel – it’s so warm here now (no AC) that it clabbers over night. I’ve been skimming the clabber out and sharing it with the dogs, pigs, poultry. It’s wonderful stuff!

  6. Lysia says

    So, If I start to clabber milk is it first a sort of buttermilk, and can I then take some if this to make sour cream? I like the idea of its own culture, would it not be cultured with its own? Thanks

  7. cecily porter says

    Could I use clabbered milk in recipes calling for buttermilk? I refuse to purchase milk at the store!

    • says

      Cecily Porter – Yes, you can! Clabbered milk will have the same “sour” properties as cultured milks will due to the naturally present organic acids. So, for recipes that use buttermilk in baking, to react with baking soda, clabbered milk will work well.

      If, however, the recipe features buttermilk’s flavor, as in an ice cream or smoothie, it would still be acceptable but the flavor would not necessarily be as nice.

  8. Emily Neff says

    I have a little almost 3 week old raw milk in the fridge in a glass jar. What do I do with it? Does it EVER go bad? Can I still clabber it or is it clabbering in the fridge? I can’t cook with it since hubby is casein intolerant so all meals are casein free but my kids and I drink raw milk and eat some raw dairy.

    • says

      Emily – It is my understanding that it certainly can go bad. I would think that it might have already started clabbering by now. If it is cow’s milk perhaps you have a thick layer of soured cream on top that you could eat. My motto is to always start with your nose. If it smells sour, then it might be fine to taste. If it smells unpleasant, then I would throw it out if I were you.

  9. says

    I inadvertently left a half gallon of raw milk in my fridge and left town for a few weeks. When I got home and realized it was still there, i noticed a large, rectangular, very compact clump of solids at the bottom of the container, with a layer of cream solids on top, and the liquid around the lower clump was very clear and light yellowish. I badly wanted to try to use all of it, but had no idea if it was safe. Anyone know what my milk turned into after weeks in the fridge, undisturbed like that?

  10. Angel says

    If it did clabber in the frig is it still good ? It doesn’t smell bad but it is very fermented. Been in frig for a month before I got to it. Can I freeze it?

    • says

      Angel – If it smells okay then you might try tasting it. If it tastes okay then I would eat it right away rather than freezing. Freezing often changes the texture of dairy products, in my experience.

  11. mandy says

    Hi Andrea,
    I currently live in California and but my raw milk from the store. But last week I had to toss my raw milk because it smelled putrid. It has never done that before . Sour, yes but smell rancid like this, no. Any idea why that happened? Should I get in touch with the dairy farm that produces my milk? Thanks

    • says

      Mandy – Yikes. I’ve only really had raw milk smell like that after it’s been left for weeks and weeks. If it happened more than once, I would personally contact the dairy to see if it’s possible that there is some bacteria in the bottles or in the milking equipment.

    • says

      Angie – I believe that even the low-heat pasteurized milk has much of the beneficial bacteria killed off. It would, therefore, putrefy more readily than clabber, in my opinion.


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