Iceberg wedges with blue cheese and buttermilk dressing.
Iceberg wedges with blue cheese and buttermilk dressing. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Jill Dupleix

What is it?

A rich, creamy dressing made from buttermilk, the whey left after churning cream into butter. Imagine Caesar salad dressing, only better.

Where is it?

MELBOURNE

At Stokehouse in St Kilda, chef Oliver Gould serves buttermilk dressing with a simple rocket and cabbage slaw with salted ricotta, while at Cumulus Inc, the yellow and green bean salad with kipfler potatoes and buttermilk dressing is a fixture. At Rockwell and Sons in Collingwood, former Cumulus chef Casey Wall is a big fan of the natural buttermilk produced by the Butter Factory in Myrtleford, using it to dress salads of heirloom radishes, gem lettuce and cucumber. ''We use it all over the shop,'' he says. ''To dredge chicken, to make biscuits and panna cotta, and in ranch-style dressings.''

SYDNEY

At Jamie's Italian in the central business district, chef David Clarke turns out dozens of Jamie's "humble" green salads with mint and lemon buttermilk dressing daily. American-born chef Gregory Llewellyn at Hartsyard serves crispy pig's tails with buttermilk dressing, pickles and hot sauce, while at Sixpenny in Stanmore, the degustation menu stars roast sweet potato with nettles, fish roe and buttermilk whey sauce. "We poach many of our vegetables in buttermilk" co-chef James Parry says, "and reduce the resulting whey until the natural sugars caramelise".

Why do I care?

Because buttermilk is low in fat and good for the digestion. And because it's great drizzled over beef carpaccio, Caesar salad, barbecued chicken and lamb, and beautiful salads built around Christmas ham and turkey leftovers.

Can I do it at home?

Yes. Commercial buttermilk, a cultured skim-milk product, is available from supermarkets, and natural buttermilk is available from the Butter Factory, Myrtleford, Victoria thebutterfactory.com.au and from Pepe Saya (pepesaya.com.au).

Sourcing it

MELBOURNE

Rockwell and Sons, 288 Smith Street, Collingwood, (03)  8415 0700; Stokehouse, 30 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, (03) 9525 5555; Cumulus Inc, 45 Flinders Lane, city, (03) 9650 1445; Butter Factory, 15 Myrtle Street, Myrtleford, 5752 2300, stockists (for example, Pete n Rosie's Deli, Prahran Market; Bill's Farm, Queen Victoria Market) thebutterfactory.com.au

SYDNEY

Jamie's Italian, 107 Pitt Street, city, (02) 82409000; Sixpenny, 83 Percival Road, Stanmore, (02) 95726666; Hartsyard, 33 Enmore Road, Newtown, (02) 80681473;  Pepe Saya buttermilk is available at Eveleigh Markets, Bondi Farmers Market, Warwick Farm Farmers' Markets and Marrickville Organic Food Market or phone Pepe Saya (02) 95594449 for details.

Iceberg wedges with blue cheese and buttermilk dressing

6 thin slices pancetta

100ml buttermilk

1 tbsp quality mayonnaise

1 tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, finely grated

Sea salt

1 iceberg lettuce, chilled

150g soft blue cheese, e.g. roquefort, gorgonzola

2 tbsp chives, roughly snipped

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 190C. Arrange pancetta on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes until crisp, then roughly crumble.

2. To make the dressing, whisk the buttermilk, mayonnaise and vinegar with the mustard, garlic and sea salt, and refrigerate until needed. Cut the lettuce in half crosswise, then cut each half into three or four wedges, depending on size. Arrange on a serving plate. Crumble most of the blue cheese over the top and spoon over the dressing. Scatter with remaining blue cheese, chives, cracked pepper and crumbled pancetta, and serve.

Serves 4