https://www.tastingtable.com/1603020/buttermilk-secret-ingredient-cheesecake-interview/

Interview with Cheesecake Expert Reveals Surprising Buttermilk Secret Ingredient

When we think of cheesecake, images of rich and creamy deliciousness dance in our heads and we immediately start to drool. While we prefer a thick, luscious slice of the classic, no-frills, New York-style cheesecake, we’ll happily indulge in any other flavor from chocolate to key lime. Seriously, as long as it has that impeccable combination of sweet and sour, we’re all in. The only question is, how do you get that perfect blend? Will any old cream cheese work or do you need something special? 

Since we don’t have all the answers, we asked professional cheesecake bakers Julia Tokarz and Gregory Lay from L.A.’s Eastside Cheesecakes at the inaugural Los Angeles Wine & Food Festival what their secret is to the perfect cheesecake. We were sure it would be a full-fat cream cheese. Turns out we were wrong. It’s actually buttermilk.

Buttermilk gives the cake “that nice creaminess,” explains Tokarz. “And it also helps give it an extra tanginess to it.” That tanginess comes from the fermentation that happens when bacterial cultures, salt, and citric acid are blended with skim milk, which produces the familiar sour flavor buttermilk is known for.

Buttermilk-based cream cheese is better than store-bought

2 glasses of buttermilk

Cultured buttermilks tend to be more sour than the buttermilk created while making butter, but both have a distinct tang — a tang that Lay says you won’t find in most store-bought cream cheeses. “All other cheesecakes are made with store-bought, preservative-filled, sort of, you know, rubber, paste-like cream cheese,” Lay says chuckling. “And it’s amazing, you kind of forget that you’re using actual cheese. So, when you make fresh cheese, it offers a whole other level of flavor or flavor profile as well as a creamier texture.” 

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Lay made this discovery while working at a bagel shop that made its own cream cheese. The secret ingredient in said cream cheese? Buttermilk. But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Tokarz decided to use Lay’s cream cheese to make the perfect cheesecake. She’d just lost her job and wondered, “What if we use this cream cheese to make a cheesecake, cause nobody does that[?]” So, Tokarz took her final paycheck, bought a used mixer off Craigslist, pulled out her mom’s Christmas cheesecake recipe, and Eastside Cheesecakes was born. 

The couple believes their shop is a success because of that homemade, buttermilk-based cream cheese. “People that don’t like cheesecake at all, love the cheesecake,” Lay says. “And then the people that are lactose intolerant are willing to go with the pain in order to taste it. So, it really does change the entire thing. It’s not as dense and it’s full of flavor.”

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