How to Make Butter

A simple luxury, knowing how to make butter makes everything better.

| September/October 2013

  • A crock of homemade butter sits on a table with a plate of bread and two bowls with pats of butter.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Butter-making utensils are soaked in a bowl of ice water.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Buttermilk is being poured off after butterfat has formed.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Butter is being washed to force out as much buttermilk as possible.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Liquid is being pressed out so butter can form.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Butter inside a bowl lined with paper towels allows it to drain.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Homemade butter is placed in a bowl and refrigerated for a few hours or overnight.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Homemade butter is being made in a stand mixer.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Homemade butter is being made in a food processor.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Homemade butter is being made using the jar-shaking method.
    Photo By Karen Keb
  • Homemade Herbed Butter is shaped into a log.
    Photo By Karen Keb

Pure, unadulterated fresh milk from the farm is a luxury few of us remember, but it shouldn’t be. Homemade dairy products — made the old-fashioned way — may be your next goal as a homesteader, and for good reasons.

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 — cow or goat.

Butter makes everything better. In baked goods, it imparts flavor and is an excellent shortening. Slathered on homemade bread or fresh-picked corn on the cob, or used to sauté vegetables, butter can’t be beat.

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. 



Making butter 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 you are using fresh milk from your own cow or goat, follow this method.

To separate the cream from fresh unhomogenized milk, allow the milk to sit in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 24 hours. Use a wide bowl and cover it tightly with a lid or plastic wrap to keep unwanted odors from infiltrating. The cream will rise to the top and form a layer of milk fat. If the bowl is clear glass, you’ll see the “cream line,” or “top milk,” as it used to be called. Using a large spoon, skim the cream off the top, trying not to disturb the milk underneath. You won’t be able to get all of it, but don’t worry about that. Transfer the cream to a freezer container. Once you have about a pint of cream, you’re ready to make butter. If you are milking and skimming cream every day, use multiple small freezer containers rather than adding to one larger container. Smaller containers will defrost faster than one large solid mass.



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