IndriVanilla Beans & Buttermilk Panna Cotta

indri vanilla beans

Until about a month ago, I had altogether stopped purchasing vanilla beans. I couldn’t justify paying $12 for a single bean — a desiccated looking one at that — at the grocery store when I could substitute vanilla extract with little harm done.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered IndriVanilla, a source for Fair Trade, organically grown vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices — I ordered 19 beans online for a grand total of $13.50 including shipping. The beans arrived just days after I placed the order, their beautiful fleshy bodies visible through the cryovacked pack.

I didn’t want to break the seal, but I couldn’t resist. I snipped the corner, releasing a waft of vanilla aroma, and pulled out the bundle of tightly nestled glistening beans. But holding the pods in my hands wasn’t enough, nor was inhaling their perfume as I ran them under my nose. I grabbed my knife and made an incision, prying open the seam with the blade to reveal the caviar. Vanilla caviar — it’s an incredible sight. How could these beans cost only 50 cents a piece?

I contacted the company to learn more. The owner of IndriVanilla buys the beans directly from a farmer in Indonesia at his asking price. Without a middleman involved in the exchange, prices stay low. What’s more, this family-run co-op practices sustainable growing methods, using sheep to fertilize the crops and to control insect populations, precluding the need for pesticides, insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. While this farm has been growing organically for over ten years, they are not yet certified, the high cost of certification prohibiting the process at the moment.

So many recipes — Balzano apple cake, vanilla ice cream, homemade vanilla extract — flashed in my mind as I stared at that split-open bean, but I decided on panna cotta, a recipe I’ve been meaning to revisit after recently discovering my go-to recipe to be too sweet. I found this Claudia Fleming recipe on and frankly can’t find a thing wrong with it. Creamy, beautiful and delicious, it’s a perfect medium for showcasing these beans.

I know it’s still January, and we really shouldn’t be thinking about creamy desserts just yet, but keep this one in mind for Valentine’s Day, which is right around the corner. Those of you who have already made panna cotta know that it doesn’t get much more simple than this in the dessert department. It can be made ahead — several days in advance in fact — and the only cooking involved is bringing a little cream to a boil.

And if you don’t have time to whip anything up for a special someone, I think these beans alone would make a lovely gift. A bundle of vanilla beans, perhaps tied with a red ribbon? It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

buttermilk panna cotta

buttermilk panna cotta

indri vanilla beans

pot of cream



buttermilk panna cotta

This is how the vanilla beans arrive — in a nice cryovacked pack. After you break the seal and are ready to store the remaining beans you are not using, it’s important to get the beans back into an air-sealed environment. If you have a FoodSaver, that is ideal, but that could become a pain if you are planning on using the beans frequently. The owner of IndriVanilla advises coiling them up and storing them in a glass jar with a rubberized lid and coiled ring. I bundled mine up really tightly in plastic wrap and then stored them in a mason jar. They seem to be staying very fresh. Pictured below are the premium beans — I have yet to open these beauties.
IndriVanilla beans

empty ramekin

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Source: Claudia Fleming via Saveur

Notes from Saveur: This recipe is adapted from one in Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course (Random House, 2001). Panna cotta means cooked cream.

1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream*
7 tbsp. sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

*If you want to lighten it up a bit, you could substitute whole milk (probably even 1% or 2%) for the heavy cream. This might alter the texture a bit, but I imagine the flavor will still be nice.

1. Soften gelatin in 1 tbsp. cold water in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put cream and sugar into a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into pan, then add pod. Heat cream over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, 3–5 minutes, then stir into bowl with gelatin. Stir in buttermilk, then strain into another bowl.

2. Divide custard between six 8-oz. ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. To unmold, dip ramekins into a dish of hot water, then invert custards onto plates. (Note: I don’t invert — I prefer serving the panna cotta in their ramekins with a spoon.) Garnish with raspberries or other fruit, if you like.

empty ramekin


  1. says

    Beautiful photos as always! Thank you for the vanilla bean source – I usually buy them for $5 a piece at a small local kitchen supply store, but this is definitely worth checking out, especially for that quality and price!

  2. says

    I absolutely LOVE working with vanilla beans in the kitchen. The are indeed a little pricey but worth the expense in my eyes. With this new source, I can see myself baking with them a whole lot more. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. says

    Ali, I am about to order vanilla beans – thank you! I, too, always balk at their price. I’ve never made panna cotta but perhaps it is time to try? Lovely photos!

  4. molly says

    what a wonderful find! vanilla beans are so much sexier than extract and i love being able to stuff the empty pods in sugar for a heavenly scented treat later on. and buttermilk panna cotta is my fav…

    also, i’m wondering what camera you have? i love all your shots.

    • says

      Hi Molly, I forgot about vanilla sugar! Thanks for reminding me. That is such a treat.

      I use a Canon Rebel xt. It’s about 4 years old now, but it’s been so good to me, and I don’t plan on replacing it anytime soon.

  5. says

    It’s absolutely iniquitous that other places charge so much when you know the farmers aren’t getting even a fraction of it! This sounds like definitely the way to buy vanilla in future.

  6. Liz says

    Fabulous post! I had unexpected guests last night and made the panna cotta. Guests were swooning. Thank you, Alexandra. And today, the whole house smells of vanilla. Next time, I will definitely use the IndriVanilla beans.

  7. says

    Yes, you should think about creamy desserts. I am still a believer in eating a little pleasure inside of a diet. And, how timely, last week I made buttermilk pie with vanilla bean and still lost weight. I am going to link this post to my post when I do it (probably today) because I love everything you said about purchasing vanilla beans. And, this is another wonderful way to use buttermilk.

  8. says

    There are a lot of baking supplies you can’t find in Switzerland…boxes of baking soda (it comes in little packets), dominos brown sugar, blackstrap molasses, cake flour and vanilla extract. No vanilla extract! Instead of extract the stores sell tubes of vanilla beans, 2 for $2. I was shocked! They even have little jars of vanilla seeds, ready to sprinkle into your cake batter. Access to cheap vanilla beans seems to be one of the few perks of baking in Switzerland. I guess I have little or no excuse for not making Bolzano Apple Cake every weekend and Pana Cotta every weeknight. This recipe looks great, and so easy, a wonderful dessert option for when my gluten free friends come for dinner! Love the bean in sugar idea too.

  9. Sunie says

    I just went to their website but everything is out of stock! Which size vanilla beans did you get?
    I’ll have to try your latest iteration on the buttermilk panna cotta. Looks beautiful!

    • says

      Sunie, oh no! I haven’t been to the site since I ordered my beans. I have been in touch with the owner, however, you told me the weather in Indonesia has been unseasonably rainy and overcast which has delayed the curing of the lower grade vanilla beans. I ordered the cheapest ones — I forget how they are labeled on the site, but they were the ones falling into the cheapest shipping rate. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else from the owner. I hope all is well!

  10. Sunie says

    When I checked Indrivanilla’s website and found they were out of stock I was able to request an email be sent when stock was again available. I just heard from them that the least expensive beans were available and I have ordered 10 of them. Can’t wait. And I’ll be trying your newest buttermilk panna cotta for sure. Thanks for the tip.

  11. Anne Murphy says

    I have made this panne cotta several times now and it is always amazing. I serve it with fresh berries. My dinner guests rave about it…..if they only knew how simple it was to make!!!
    Thanks for another awesome recipe!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *