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Making farm-fresh butter

June 12, 2015
GRIT magazine


From GRIT magazine

Pure, unadulterated fresh milk from the farm is a luxury few of us remember, but it shouldn't be.

Article Photos

HOMEMADE BUTTER is being made using the jar-shaking method.

Arguably one of the best and most luxurious products to emerge from an animal is butter. Rich and creamy, butter is the perfect natural fat - loaded with omega-3s, vitamin A, beta carotene, and the beneficial rare fat, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) - when made from the milk of a grassfed cow.

Contrary to popular media hype, butter is good for you; it completely lacks trans fats, and it's the healthiest option in the dairy case, particularly when it's organic and made from the milk of pastured animals, whether cow or goat.

Whether you have your own dairy animal, you purchase milk from a local farmer, or you just want to try making butter from store-bought cream, it's worth the effort.

You'll learn about the properties of fresh milk and the various products that can be made from it, and you'll enjoy the unique flavor that results from your hard work.

From milk or cream

Butter is made from cream. While cow's milk is the easiest from which to skim cream, goat's milk also can be skimmed, but it will take more time for it to separate because of the smaller milk-fat globules.

If using store-bought cream for butter making, look for unhomogenized heavy cream. If you can't find it, homogenized cream will still make butter, although it will take longer.

Avoid the overcooked ultrapasteurized cream at all costs, because it's naturally thinner than regular pasteurized cream, unless lots of thickeners such as carrageenan and guar gum have been added.

Using this fresh cream, known as sweet cream, is one option for butter making. The other is to culture, or ripen, the cream by allowing the milk to sour slightly.

For natural souring, place raw cream in a covered jar and let sit at room temperature (about 70 to 75 degrees) for 24 to 48 hours. You should end up with a mild acidity and a good aroma - similar principles to a healthy sourdough.

There is always the risk of spoiling the cream with this natural method, and if it smells rancid afterward, throw it out.

Natural souring can only be accomplished with raw milk or cream that contains no antibiotics.

Pasteurization will have killed off all the natural souring bacteria.

The more common method of souring, used on pasteurized milk, is to add a commercial bacterial culture - available through cheese-making suppliers.

Cultured starters render a clean, acidic flavor to butter, while also slightly increasing the yield of butterfat.

Using a commercial starter safeguards the butter against unwanted invading bacteria by the sheer number of good bacteria.

After the cream has been cultured, refrigerate overnight, until well chilled. Now, you are ready to churn butter.


An important factor in butter making is temperature control. Temperature of the cream and the ambient temperature of the room will factor into how quickly cream turns to butter, and the quality of the finished product.

When researching butter-making literature, most sources advise starting with cream that is between 55 and 65 degrees. However, in a modern kitchen - which is typically kept around 70 degrees - and when using electric appliances like a food processor or stand mixer, the temperature of the cream will rise quickly due to the friction produced.

So start with cream that is about 45 degrees, and work in a kitchen that is as cool as possible. Don't attempt to make butter on a hot day in a hot kitchen.

Chill the cream, the bowl and the utensils before starting, and most importantly, work quickly.

If you want to use wood butter paddles, molds or stamps, sterilize them first by placing them in a pot of boiling water for one minute.

Cool them by running cold tap water over them, then place them in a bowl of ice water before proceeding to butter making.

The following methods yield about 4 ounces of butter, which is equal to about 1/2 cup or 1 stick, with the exception of the stand mixer method, which yields about 8 ounces.

Unsalted butter will keep up to a week in the refrigerator, and salted butter will keep up to three weeks.

Stand mixer

Refrigerate the bowl of your stand mixer for an hour before beginning. Then, place 1 quart cold cream in the bowl.

Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until thickened (it will go from soft peaks to stiff peaks).

Continue whipping until the whipped cream disintegrates into yellow butterfat globules (this looks like scrambled eggs); the buttermilk is released and sloshes around in the bowl.

From start to finish, this will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Place a clean bowl under a sieve and drain. Set the buttermilk aside for another use. Clean the mixing bowl and put the butter back into it.

Beat for another minute to release more buttermilk; drain again.

Place the butter in a large, clean bowl and "wash" it, by covering the butter with cold water, then, using your hands, butter bats or a rubber spatula, knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible.

Drain the water and wash the butter two more times, or until the water runs clear. Pat dry the butter with paper towels, then knead in salt if desired.

Mold the butter into sticks or place in a container or custard cups. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Food processor

Place 1 pint cold cream in the bowl of a food processor, and process until the cream thickens (this will happen fast). It will soon break down into yellowish granules.

Pulse the machine until the buttermilk releases and sloshes around, and you see clumps of yellow butter. (From start to finish, this will take less than 5 minutes.)

Scrape out the contents into a strainer set over a large bowl. Dump the butter into another clean bowl, and add 1/2 cup cold water.

Using a wood spoon, rubber spatula or your hands, form the butter into a mass and knead out any remaining buttermilk.

Drain, then add clean water and continue washing the butter until the water runs clear.

Pat the butter dry and work in salt if you like. Place the butter in a container or form into a stick and wrap.

Store in refrigerator.

By hand

If you really want to test your homesteading skills, try making butter by hand.

This is insanely laborious, but it will leave you with an intimate knowledge and appreciation for butter-making.

Place 1 pint skimmed cream or store-bought cream in a large glass bowl that has been well chilled.

Whisk the cream rapidly until you start to recognize whipped cream. Keep whisking until the cream is so stiff you can hardly get the whisk through it.

Keep whisking until a thin, whitish liquid (buttermilk) seeps from the heavy foam, and the foam turns into a grainy yellowish substance (butter).

Form the granules into a ball and continue beating the butter with a large wooden spoon, butter paddles or a rubber spatula to further separate the liquid from the butter.

Drain the buttermilk into another container if you wish to save it, and keep paddling the butter to further force out any more liquid.

Wash the butter by adding about 1/2 cup cold water and continue pressing the butter. Pour off the water, and keep forcing out any remaining liquid. It's important to get as much liquid out of the butter as possible because any liquid remaining will cause it to go rancid quickly.

Place the butter in a paper towel and pat dry. If you like, transfer the butter to a clean bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon pickling salt, and work it into the butter using a rubber spatula.

Transfer the butter to a container and refrigerate.

Use the buttermilk for baking - biscuits, cornbread and scones are delightful made with buttermilk.

Buttermilk will keep refrigerated for four to five days.

Jar shaking

Slightly easier than making butter by hand is the jar-shaking method. Place 1 pint cold cream, just out of the refrigerator, in a well-chilled 1-quart glass canning jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake or roll the jar briskly for 15 to 20 minutes.

First, the cream will whip and be so dense it won't have much room to move around. Keep shaking until you see yellow granules have formed. Pour off the buttermilk and transfer the solids to a large bowl.

Add 1/2 cup cold water to the bowl, and press butter with a large wooden spoon, a rubber spatula or butter paddles to keep expelling buttermilk.

Pour off the liquid, then add more water and keep pressing out the liquid. Keep doing this until the liquid remains clear.

Place the butter in a paper towel and pat dry. If you like, add 1/4 teaspoon pickling salt and work it into the butter.

Mold the butter in a container or ramekin and cover; or mold into sticks or logs and wrap in parchment paper, waxed paper or foil, twisting ends to seal.

Store in the refrigerator.

Excerpted from GRIT, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. Reprinted with permission.



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