Lait Ribot

Lait ribot

Lait ribot is a traditional fermented milk that has been made in Brittany for thousands of years, dating back to the Gauls. It is in fact fermented babeurre, or bas-beurre (litterally “low-butter”), which is the white liquid that remains after you’ve beaten cream to make butter. Ribotte, besides sounding cute, is an old word for churn, hence the name of the milk (laez ribod in Breton).

Because it was nutritious and cheap, it used to be widely consumed. People would drink it as a snack, or to accompany a meal of potatoes or buckwheat galettes.

It tastes like a pleasantly tart, drinkable yogurt that’s ever-so-slightly sparkling: if you look at the surface, you can see the tiny bubbles. It is similar in taste to the Middle Eastern kefir, which is also produced in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Central Asian koumys. (Update : it is not like the Russian kwass, as originally written.)

I enjoy it tremendously, and it used to be my drink of choice when we ate at crêperiesin Brittany when I was a child. It was served in a thick-rimmed earthenware bowl, and sipping from this unusual tumbler was as much a part of the pleasure as the fresh, thirst-quenching drink itself.

Lait ribot is somewhat difficult to come by in Paris (kefir is much easier to find), but I’ve occasionally seen bottles of it on display at my cheese store. I don’t own the special bowls to drink it in, but it is still lovely drunk from a glass.

  • I loved this post! You focus on the coolest stuff! (I wish I had a lait ribot bowl to send you– helas). But I am planning a trip to Bretagne soon and looking forward to experiencing this repas ancien– maybe even find some bowls.

  • Clotilde, thanks for this posting – I think this is the same as buttermilk and have always wondered where to find it in France! At least, the Epicurious site describes buttermilk as traditionally being made from the liquid left over after butter-making. Apparently these days it’s produced artificially in the US. Now I know what to ask for!

  • Kathy


    I love your site, but can’t help to make a correction.

    Kvass is not a milk product:

    (The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1911),
    Vol.XV., p.956d)

    “Kvass (a Russian word for leaven), one of the national
    alcoholic drinks of Russia, and popular also in Eastern
    Europe. It is made, by a simultaneous acid and alcoholic
    fermentation, of wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat meal, or of
    rye -bread, with the addition of sugar or fruit. It has been
    a universal drink in Russia since the 16th. century. Though
    in the large towns it is made commercially, elsewhere it is
    frequently an article of domestic production. Kvass is of very
    low alcoholic content (0.7 to 2.2%) . There are, beside the
    ordinary kind, superior forms of the drink, such as apple or
    raspberry kvass.”

    Kefir, is rather, an Eastern European equivalent of buttermilk.

  • Bluepoppy – Oh and in Brittany, you might even buy one of those bowls with your name engraved in it! Very kitsch! :)

    Meg – Aaah, so that’s what buttermilk is like! I’d never had it in the US, and I usually sub yogurt when it’s called for in a recipe (which has never failed me by the way)…

    Kathy – Thanks for the correction! I had found this tidbit about kwass (or kvass, it’s an alternate spelling) on a few websites, but I guess they can make mistakes too! :) So only the kefir and koumys comparison holds, I’ll update the post so as not to spread the confusion…

  • Epicurious has a banana bread recipe using buttermilk, which is delicious. If you do a search there for low-fat banana bread, you’ll find it.

    I find buttermilk a little too tart to drink, but I’m not much of a milk drinker, either.

  • emily

    The lait ribot sounds almost like a cross between “traditional” buttermilk in the U.S. and the cultured product you can buy at the store. Traditional is the milk leftover from from buttermaking — it’s actually very good (I always drink it when I make homemade butter), creamy-tasting and not tart at all. The cultured product is made with low or skim milk and bacteria and is quite thick and somewhat tart.

  • Rappy – Thanks for pointing me to that recipe, it sounds great. (For those who are interested, here’s a link to it : )

    Emily – Oooh, you make your own butter? How cool! Care to tell me more about it?

  • It is indeed buttermilk. Used to be drunk in great quantities in the US. My wife grew up in the south and recalls fondly cornbread (the SALTY not sweet kind) dunked in buttermilk as a common snack.

    What is now sold in the US is a lot more like kefir – it is a fermented milk product and it is also easy to get what is called ‘bulgarian buttermilk’ – even more kefir like. They are all still good though. I always found yoghurt worked as a substitute but that you get a thicker result. I make several breads using buttermilk, especially as part of the starter, and I find I have to thin yoghurt with milk to make it come out right.

    And, yes, I still drink the occasional glass of cold buttermilk.

  • is it similar to swedish filmjölk?

  • Owen – That cornbread dunked in buttermilk is making my mouth water!

    Izan – I don’t know — maybe another reader does?

  • pie

    Very belated post…

    I just made a cold soup/raita based on a recipe in this month’s Glamour (version française — I only read it to practice my French, I swear!) using lait ribot blended with fresh coriander, avocado, red onion and cucumber. Yum! I was worried that it would be hard to find the lait ribot, but it was right there at my local monoprix with the fresh milk. There’s a version by Yoplait called “Yorik,” but I got the regular lait ribot de Bretagne, which was a bit cheaper. It was the memory of this very post that inspired me to try the recipe, so thanks!


  • Pie – Oh you know what, I know Kéda, the girl who creates the recipes for Glamour! Glad you liked the soup, I’ll tell her! As for the Yoplait Yorik milk, it is not exactly lait ribot, it is the North-African equivalent to it. The taste and texture are a little different (lait ribot is a bit thicker and tarter, almost to the point of sparkly), but they are good substitutes of one another. Thanks for the comment!

  • Kathleen Marquart

    We’ve just returned from Bretagne and I’m wondering if anyone knows of anywhere in the San Francisco/Berkeley area of CA to buy Lait Ribot? I’ve read of all the close replacements but wonder if the “real thing” is available.

  • That’s so funny – lait ribot drunk with crêpes while here in the US we make buttermilk pancakes!

    I grew up in the South (US) and my step-father (who was very “country”) used to dunk cold cornbread into buttermilk. My mother always used buttermilk for her cornbread and my grandmother always used buttermilk for her hoecakes (basically, fried cornbread – they resemble pancakes in appearance but of course have a grainier texture). As the above-poster stated, not sweetened cornbread, which is referred to as “city cornbread”.

    I’ve long thought that southern cooking in the US was French in nature.

  • Deepa

    Buttermilk is made at home in India & is a very refreshing drink!
    It is the leftover liquid after butter is churned from cream.
    We skim cream off full fat milk, add a bit of yoghurt, stir it up a bit and leave it overnight ( in torpical weather) the entire cream turns ferments lightly. this is either hand-churned or in a mixer till the butter floats on top. Add ice to hasten the process. the butter is collected, made into Ghee ( longer shelf life in tropical weather) and the remaining liquid is buttermilk! Yummy! it is called variously as Chaas, More etc, depending on which part of the country you visit ( we have 15 officially recognized languages and 300 dialects)!

  • Hello!
    I found you old post today, when I was googling information where to buy “lait ribot” in Paris. When I was living close to the French – German border, I was buying all those products in Germany (they are common there as in Poland)…I I was convinced they were not available in France. When I moved to Paris, the only place I could get “lait ribot” was the Polish store, which is far away from my neighborhood. I didn’t see “lait ribot” in any French store in Paris until today. I went to Grand Epicerie de Paris and I found it! I tried it and the taste is nearly the same as Polish!
    I love “lait ribot”, especially during summer time. Traditionally in Poland, in summertime, a simple and popular buckwheat kasha dish is accompanied by “lait ribot” (“maślanka”), kefir or soured milk (“zsiadłe mleko”). All those milk products are extremely popular in Poland. Polish “kefir” requires kefir grains which are a gelatinous community of bacteria. It is thicker than “lait fermente” I usually buy in stores in Paris and I don’t know why.
    The third extremely popular milk drink in Poland is called “zsiadłe mleko” (in English „soured milk” I suppose). This drink acquires a tart taste through natural bacterial fermentation. The acid causes milk to coagulate and makes it thicker. It is very easy to do at home provided that one has good quality, non pasteurized, full fat milk. It is delicious, too.
    All those products – buttermilk, kefir and soured milk I use for home made curd – cheese – a type of “cottage” cheese, well strained, obtained by curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet. It is the most popular cheese used in cooking (for example, as stuffing for dumplings (“pierogi”) or cheesecakes)!

  • Thank you very much for this informative post!
    I found it very useful when writing up a post on “Rino” today. And it reminded me of eating in crêperies on my first visit to Brittany not long after arriving in France…

  • John F.

    I’m sure many have stopped reading this nearly 10 year old thread, but I just came across it… thanks for the tip on what to call buttermilk!

    My wife and I live in Paris but we’re American and we’ve never known how to find it. Instead, we used whole milk that had been soured with a splash of white vinegar. We use it to make pancakes for the kids.

    But thanks to this, we’ll look for “lait ribot” or “kefir.” And the dash of plain yogurt suggestion sounds good too.

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