If you have ever had a jar of fresh milk in your fridge, you may have noticed that when left undisturbed the cream will eventually separate from the milk, leaving a distinct cream-line at the top. This natural separation of milk from cream is the miraculous beginning of the alchemy that is butter making. During this process, you can also easily make two additional cultured products — cultured cream (aka sour cream or crème fraiche) and buttermilk – with no extra work! I always make cultured butter and cream products. Culturing adds more flavor to the final product and doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.
If you collect this cream from around 2 gallons of milk, you should end up with about a quart of cream (if you are using Jersey milk it may take a bit less milk to get that amount of cream). Once your milk has separated, simply skim the cream with a small ladle into a clean quart jar.
NOTE: If you don’t have access to good, fresh milk, you can use store-bought cream. Just make sure it isn’t ULTRA pasteurized. If you would like to extend the shelf-life of your products you also may consider “scalding” the raw cream beforehand. Make sure to let it cool completely before adding your culture.
Place quart of cream into a large pot filled with hot tap water. This is the gentlest way to warm your cream.
Sprinkle a scant 1/8 teaspoon of Flora Danica or yogurt culture on your cream. Let sit on top for 2 minutes to rehydrate, then stir for a minute until the culture is thoroughly mixed in the cream.
Note: You can get Flora Danica from a number of cheesemaking supply companies. However, once you have made your first batch of cultured butter, you start culturing the cream with buttermilk from the last batch.
Cover the pot with a clean dishtowel and leave for 8 to 12 hours. After the first 4 hours, refresh the water bath with hot tap water.
Once the cream has cultured, it will be thick and smell quite tangy. Scoop out the thickest layer on top and you have fresh sour cream! Check the temperature of the cream to make sure it is around 64 to 66 F. If it is too warm, just pop it in the fridge. Once at temperature, pour the cultured cream into a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and turn on medium-high speed. The cream will first turn into whipped cream and then will begin to separate (sometimes this takes as little as 10 minutes, sometimes up to a half hour). You will begin to hear the cream sloshing around as the butter separates from the buttermilk.
Place cheesecloth inside a colander over a large bowl. Pour the butter/buttermilk mixture through the cloth. Save the buttermilk that collects in the bowl for baking or drinking fresh. Gently tighten the cheesecloth to extract some of the buttermilk then remove the butter from the cloth and place directly in the colander. Pour cold water over the butter and gently knead. This step is called “washing” and is important in extending the shelf life of your butter.
Optionally, you can add a bit of salt to taste. Since I generally keep butter out on the counter, I add salt to aid in preservation.