Snacks and sides

Asparagus, buttermilk, smoked oil

Australian Gourmet Traveller recipe for asparagus, buttermilk, smoked oil by Ben Shewry from Attica restaurant in Melbourne.
Asparagus, buttermilk, smoked oil

Asparagus, buttermilk, smoked oil

Colin Page

“At Attica we produce buttermilk every day as a by-product of making cultured butter. It is nothing like commercially made buttermilk, which reminds me of thin yoghurt as it’s mainly produced by directly fermenting skim milk.

The quality of the cream is the most important factor when making butter and buttermilk. We buy exceptional organic cream from a small herd of Jersey cows from Lakes Entrance, Victoria. To me, the milk and cream from the Jersey cow is king. It is truly a magnificent beast, known to be curious, affectionate and gentle. Its milk has been described as bovine wine. The farm we buy our milk from processes its own milk and cream in-house, which is very rare now.

In my teenage years, my family sold the sheep and cattle farm and bought a small dairy farm. My father provided us with raw milk to drink. It was a bit of a shock for us children as we were used to commercially processed milk; the flavour and fat content of raw milk were so completely different. With raw milk you can taste the nuances of the cow’s diet, the seasonal variations in pasture, the effects of drought and the breed of the cow itself – all these factors affect the flavour of raw cow’s milk. The majority of dairy products today are controlled and produced by huge corporations that care only about volume production and profit margins with little emphasis on the flavour of the milk or the welfare of the farmer or their cows.

The recipe I’ve included for culturing butter is straightforward: add a little yoghurt to cream and ferment it overnight. You can also make cultured butter by directly inoculating the cream with cheese-making bacteria.” – Ben Shewry, Attica, Melbourne

You’ll need to begin this recipe a day ahead.


Cultured butter and buttermilk
Smoked oil



1.For the cultured butter and buttermilk, combine the cream and yoghurt, pour into a 2-litre sterilised glass jar (see cook’s notes p218) and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Leave at room temperature to ferment for 24 hours. During this process the cream mixture will sour as the bacteria convert the natural sugars in the cream to lactic acid. Once fermented, place the jar in the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours. Pour the cream mixture into an old-fashioned hand-cranked butter churn or into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Churn until the butter and buttermilk separate. Remove from the churn and form the butter into a ball. Squeeze as much buttermilk from the butter as possible (now is the time to knead in some salt if you want salted butter). Set the butter aside for another use. Refrigerate if you’re not using it immediately. Strain the buttermilk through a fine sieve into a bowl. Season with a small amount of salt and refrigerate until needed.
2.For the smoked oil, place the oil in a stainless-steel bowl. Light a cold smoker (see note) using the sawdust, place the bowl inside and smoke the oil at 2C for 2-4 hours. Extinguish the fire and leave the oil inside the smoker for a further 2 hours to allow the flavour of the smoke to fully infuse.
3.To serve, bring a 5-litre saucepan filled with salted water to the boil. Blanch the asparagus for 1 minute, then drain. Dress the asparagus with the smoked oil and season with salt. Place 5 asparagus spears on each plate. Pour some buttermilk over them. Sprinkle with the fennel pollen and fennel tips. Drizzle a generous amount of smoked oil over the asparagus. Finish with a small grind of pepper and a small pinch of salt.

Organic Jersey cream is available from select farmers’ markets and health-food shops. Food-grade sawdust is available from select butchers and barbecue supply shops. Ben Shewry writes, “It’s important to be aware of the source of the charcoal and wood you use for cold and hot smoking. The wood should be natural and untreated, and from sustainable sources. I prefer to use a blowtorch to get the fire going instead of petroleum-based firelighters as they can taint the food.” On cold smoking, he writes, “Typically, cold smoking is achieved at temperatures between 26C and 35C. At Attica, however, we have a purpose-built cold smoker that is actually cold (it is constructed from a stainless-steel refrigerator), which allows us to prolong the smoking process and in turn develop deeper and more aromatic smoky flavours. We can smoke ingredients safely for as long as 40 hours and the temperature never rises above 5C. In our custom-made cold smoker, we can cold smoke more heat-sensitive ingredients such as curd cheeses and cold-pressed extra-virgin oils.”

This recipe was published in the October 2012 issue of

, is from

, published by Murdoch Books (hbk, $95), and has been reproduced with minor

style changes.


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