Woohoo – home made butter!
Since the first time I read the “Little House” books as a child, I was fascinated by butter making. We didn’t have a churn or dairy cows, so I learned to make butter by shaking whipping cream in a jar. I thought home-made butter tasted fabulous when I was 8 years old, but when I grew up and made butter again, my homemade butter just didn’t taste quite as wonderful as I remembered. So what do people in the 21st century do when they have a question? They go on an internet search. I was lucky enough to come across an old (30+ years old) article from Mother Earth about butter making. Apparently the secret to better tasting butter (besides having your own dairy cow for fresh cream) is CULTURED butter – made by leaving your fresh cream to sit out until it is soured and then churning it.
Terrific. Except I don’t have fresh, unpasteurized milk and cream available – much less my own cow (yet). The internet did not fail me though and I came across a blog that had the answer I was looking for – YOGURT. Adding yogurt with live cultures and then leaving the mixture sit out until it gets a sour, tangy taste, is the secret to going from acceptable tasting butter to butter with some zing. And I even used ultra high pasteurized whipping cream that was available at the store to make my first few batches of cultured butter and it did just fine – contrary to other people’s experiences.
The photo is of 2 cups of whipping cream mixed with about 5 ounces of Greek yogurt, with live cultures in it, after sitting out on the counter for 36 hours covered with an air-permeable cloth. It has thickened quite a bit since sitting out.
The cultured cream before churning.
I also use regular, plain flavor yogurt instead of thick Greek yogurt and get the same results. The live cultures are what’s important. I don’t even measure, I just pour the cream into large Mason jars, filling them halfway, plop a spoonful or two of yogurt into the jar, stir, cover with a paper towel (to allow any gas buildup from the cultures to escape), and let the jars sit. The longer it sits the more tangy the butter will be, so you can experiment on how long you prefer the cream to sit before churning.
The combination of being warm from sitting out for so long, together with the yogurt cultures, made churning faster than making sweet cream butter. It took about 10 minutes to go from thickened liquid to separated butter and buttermilk in the jar. When I’ve used plain whipping cream without culturing (which is how you make sweet cream butter), I’ve had it take a half hour or more of jar shaking to get it churned. Cutting down on churning time is a big plus in my book.
The butter after “churning” in a canning jar.
You’ll need to drain the butter after churning – I use cheesecloth AND a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl to catch the buttermilk. We do NOT toss out our buttermilk.
- Draining the buttermilk from the butter.
The final draining off of buttermilk
After draining, there is still some buttermilk left in the butter that needs to be washed out, otherwise the butter goes rancid much faster. Using cold water (refrigerator or iced water works best), stir and smush the butter around in the bowl of cold water. The water will turn a milky color. Pour out the water and repeat the process of pouring cool water into the bowl and squishing the butter around in the water to work out the buttermilk. Continue this rinsing process until the water is clear when you smush the butter around. The butter becomes more solid as it cools down during the cold water rinsing. In winter I sometimes have to add a bit of warm water to the washing because the cold faucet water is so cold that the butter becomes hardened too quickly before the washing is complete.
Washing the butter – the first rinse has the most buttermilk as you can see by how white the water is.
After washing the butter, you can add salt to it or leave it plain depending on your tastebuds. Some types of cooking and baking are better if unsalted butter is used.
Salt is a preservative and will keep your butter fresh longer, particularly if you use larger quantities in it. Before refrigeration was common, there were recommendations to salt butter very heavily or to keep it submerged in a salty brine. When a new batch of butter was taken from storage, they would wash the butter again to get enough salt out of it to be able to use it. You can also freeze your butter or clarify your unsalted butter (clarified butter also goes by the names of “drawn butter” and sometimes “ghee”) to increase storage life. There is also “canned” butter that you can make, but in some cases it may not be the safest option depending on how you choose to can it.
If you divide your butter up into portions by weight, it makes it easier to use your homemade butter in place of store-bought butter in recipes.
And what to do with the buttermilk you drained off? The buttermilk keeps for a good long time in the refrigerator and we use it whenever we have a recipe for sour milk/buttermilk and even as a special orange-buttermilk-honey drink that I’m fond of. It is not as thick as the cultured buttermilk you get at the store. I even use some of the buttermilk for the live cultures when making sour cream or another batch of butter.
These photos were taken using the cheapest whipping cream available at the store and it still turned out great. If you use fresh cream or “better” quality cream like organic/grass fed cream, you’ll get a butter that is even more yellow and buttery tasting. You can also make butter from other sources of milk like sheep and goat milk.
A butter bell is a great way to store your butter on the counter so it is still soft and can be used right away. If you use refrigerated water in the bowl and change it at least every other day, you can keep your butter fresh much longer, even during the heat of summer, without having it in the refrigerator. Click here to go to a site that has photos of butter bells if you have never seen one.
I’ve been making homemade butter routinely for a couple of years now and it is well worth the little bit of effort it takes. Plus, you know what you’re eating, unlike the various artificial butter flavored products with names of ingredients you can’t pronounce and have no idea what they are.
Quick version of making homemade cultured butter:
- Obtain whipping cream if you don’t have a dairy animal that you can get cream from.
- Take a jar with a tight-fitting lid and fill it no more than half full with cream. I usually use a quart Mason jar. If you fill the jar too full, you won’t have room to churn the butter in the jar.
- Put a large spoonful or two of yogurt with live active cultures into the cream. You can also use live cultured buttermilk – like the leftover buttermilk from the last time you made butter.
- Mix the yogurt/buttermilk into the cream.
- Cover the jar with a cloth that is NOT air tight. I usually use a paper towel held in place by the ring of the canning jar.
- Leave the jar on your counter at room temp for at least 12 hours to let the bacteria grow and sour the cream. (Time on counter is based on your preference for how much tang you want in your butter and the room temperature.)
- Once your cream is cultured, put the jar’s tight-fitting lid into place.
- Shake your jar back and forth, up and down to churn the butter. You’ll feel the difference as the butter forms. At first it will just slosh, then you’ll feel more of a solid thumping mixed with liquid. Keep going past this point to finish the butter. By the end, you’ll have a much more solid mass surrounded by buttermilk and you will have felt another change in the way it thumps and sloshes when churning. That’s when it is done.
- Drain the butter through cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve (I use both). Drain over a bowl if you plan on saving your buttermilk for us (recommended so as not to waste anything).
- Put your drained butter into a bowl and wash the butter with cool/cold water to get all the buttermilk out. Periodically drain out the dirty water and put in fresh water. The water will be milky at first but should be clear before you call your washing finished.
- After your butter is washed, you can mix in a little salt (about 1/4-1/2 tsp is usually sufficient to enhance the flavor if you used 2 cups of cream), or you can leave it unsalted.
- Marvel at the wonderful tasting butter you’ve made.