Fresh, Homemade Butter

Reader Contribution by Kristi Cook
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Homemade butter is a simple pleasure that you can easily create in a short period of time.

Once you tackle the self-reliant lifestyle, you quickly discover there aren’t many things you can’t make yourself — and make better. For our family, this means better produce, better eggs, better meat, and much better dairy products. Among our favorites are homemade butter, sour cream, and farmer’s cheese. And you don’t even have to own a cow.

Select a milk. Raw milk, or milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized, produces the best tasting products. Goat, cow, sheep, even llama milk may be used, with each lending its own distinctive flavor and texture to the final product. This variety is what makes raw milk products so appealing.

However, if you’re unable to obtain raw milk, or just not comfortable with the whole idea, you can still make great tasting dairy products with pasteurized milk or cream. Just make sure the milk says “pasteurized” rather than “ultra-pasteurized,” as ultra-pasteurized milk often will not work.

Two types of butter. Cultured butter is the butter your great-grandparents likely enjoyed and is produced with cream that has fermented, or “soured.” It’s flavor is rather distinct, ranging from slightly tangy to profoundly soured. The intensity depends on how ripe the cream is and does require a bit of familiarity with your specific cream’s characteristics since various creams ferment at different rates. When obtaining cream for cultured butter, use only raw cream because pasteurized cream has lost the ability to ferment and must have cultures added in order to ripen safely (which is not covered here).

Sweet butter, on the other hand, has a more modern flavor and can be produced with both raw cream and pasteurized heavy whipping cream. (Again, be sure to avoid ultra pasteurized cream.) Raw cream tends to produce a richer, more vibrant yellow butter than pasteurized and has a much sweeter taste. However, pasteurized works just fine, usually resulting in a milder flavor much like the store bought varieties of sweet butter.

A mason jar works perfectly for making small batches of butter.

Butter making in a nutshell. Or in a mason jar. Yes, you can still buy butter churns, but they really aren’t necessary unless you plan to make a lot of butter at one time. I find that simpler is better and opt for a single, quart-sized mason jar. The only other items needed are cheesecloth or a jelly strainer bag, a bowl, and a spoon.

For cultured butter, allow raw cream to sour naturally in the refrigerator (this may take a week or longer), or pour cream into a loosely covered mason jar — no more than three-quarters full — and leave in a warm location until it smells slightly soured. As a general rule, the more soured the cream is, the more soured, or tangy, the finished butter will be. Once you finish your first batch, you may wish to adjust the amount of time you allow the cream to ripen in order to obtain just the right flavor.

If you want sweet butter instead, place the raw or pasteurized cream in a lightly covered jar on a countertop and allow cream to come close to room temperature. Keep in mind that if the cream is left out past the “almost warm” stage, it will begin to sour if the cream is raw or go rancid if using pasteurized cream.

You’ll know the butter is ready for washing when you see a large mass of butter curds in the jar.

Once cream has soured (for cultured butter) or warmed (for sweet butter), place lid and band onto jar. Briskly shake, “slamming” cream against the walls. You’ll notice a change in the cream’s movement as it thickens within 5-15 minutes. A little longer, and clumps of butter will form and the mixture will start to leave the walls of the jar. At this point, reduce shaking to a moderate level and continue until jar walls are clear.

When it appears all the butter curds have formed, pour contents into cheesecloth or towel to drain, catching the buttermilk in a glass container for later use. You’ll need to wash the butter next to keep the butter from souring during storage. To do this, use a spoon to move the curds around, pressing out as much buttermilk as possible. Gently rinse several times with cool water until water remains clear. Place washed butter in a bowl and add salt/seasonings, if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator or freeze for later use.

Don’t throw out the remaining liquid. It’s a delicious buttermilk perfect for biscuits and pancakes — smothered in butter, of course!

Once you’ve enjoyed fresh, homemade butter, you’ll find commercially prepared butter much less appealing. The difference in flavor is enough to make almost anyone wish for a dairy animal of their own. The same holds true for virtually all homemade dairy products, so stay tuned for the next post I send along, as I will share how to make homemade sour cream and farmer’s cheese.

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