Buttermaker

I know I said I was going to regale you only with my retrospective blog post series for another 2-3 days, but I just couldn’t sit still. I decided to make my own butter and I have to share!

You know I like to cook, and I like to cook things that taste good. The only way to make that happen is to use real quality ingredients: like organic micro-arugula, fresh-that-morning eggs, and European cultured butter. You know, the kind that retails at upwards of $26 per pound. Sounds reasonable, right?

I didn’t think so either. Though the caramel sauce that I made for Christmas Eve, using cultured butter, was the most spectacular I’ve ever tasted. If there was no other way to get it, I totally would shell out for cultured butter once or twice per year. Cultured butter is to regular butter what yogurt is to milk: the flavor difference is outstanding and complex. It even smells a little bit like cheese, and tastes so buttery you’ll wonder why you never realized what you were missing. We’ve been getting our cultured butter “on the cheap” for $10/lb from an Amish farmer. I freeze most of it and dole out the rest parsimoniously, sliver by sliver. Ever had farm-fresh eggs fried with a smidgin of cultured butter and a dash of seasoned salt? Divine.

I’ve been meaning to try buttermaking for a while, of course, but after reading this post at Positron, I went right out and bought me some cream.

I started out with 1 quart of cheap whipping cream from Costco, which retails at $3/quart. It’s Land-o-Lakes, so the quality’s fine. Nothing like the organic cream you can buy at Whole Foods or anything, but please! I wanted to see if it worked before shelling out more than $3.

I heated the cream in a double boiler until it reached 86 degrees, then took it off the heat and stirred in some buttermilk culture (from cheesemaking.org). You could also use up to a 1/4 cup of your own cultured buttermilk or in a pinch, a few tablespoons of live yogurt.

Let it sit undisturbed at 70F for 12 hours. Just like making buttermilk.

The important thing is to try to find NOT-ULTRA-PASTEURIZED cream. You want plain old pasteurized, or better yet raw. It seems that around here, ultra-pasteurized cream is all you can get. You shouldn’t let that stop you because it’ll work okay, but you’ll get much better results if the proteins aren’t as heat-damaged.

Then you pour the yogurt-like cream into the mixer and begin whipping like you would to make whipped cream. (Because I had to use ultra-pasteurized cream – and because my house is always below 70 in the winter – my cream never became yogurty and had only a slightly cultured taste. Boo hoo! But after 16 hours it was now or never, so we went ahead).

Slow down as it becomes grainy, as it’s about to separate and will splash buttermilk everywhere.

Suddenly it separates into yellowy butter and pale buttermilk. Kind of awesome. This happened within 5 minutes and Sofía got pretty excited at tasting all the changes in texture.

Pour the contents through a sieve into a container, to keep. (This is real old-fashioned buttermilk you’re pouring off here – amazing in baking. Do not pour that down the drain!) Then plop the butter remains into a bowl half-full of very cold water.

With your spatula, knead it and spread it and smear it and knead it through several changes of water until the water remains fairly clear (if you don’t wash the butter it will go rancid). Apparently you can also do this step in the mixer, which we will try next time.

Then pour off the water and knead and spread and smear the butter on the side of the bowl to get all the water out too. Once the butter isn’t leaking any more, smear in a few sprinklings of kosher salt to taste if desired. (I think we used about a 1/2-1 teaspoon.)*

Sofía was really sad that I wouldn’t let her lick the butter bowl. Note that she already has copious buttermilk AND whipped-cream mustachings.

Line a mold with saran wrap. Fill it gradually with butter, pushing down firmly to eliminate air bubbles. Wrap up and put in the fridge to firm up.

At this point I was going to use a little batik-style stamp I had been given a few Christmases ago to emboss the top of the butter, but I had the foresight to wash it and lo and behold, it must have been a real batik stamp because indigo dye just began pouring off it.

So, not food safe. Too bad. I tried using it through one layer of Saran Wrap, but it just didn’t render any detail.  :(

When I pulled the chilled butter out of the mold (that Saran Wrap comes in handy!) it came to just a bit under 3/4 of a pound!

Now, let’s do that math again. Regular Land-o-Lakes butter costs $4.30/lb in the store. Land-o-Lakes bulk cream costs $3. So basically, even if it weren’t cultured, it’d still be a money saver. A time-saver not so much, though you have to weigh in the fresh-flavor factor. But for cultured butter, maybe the time doesn’t matter. Would you rather pay $3+elbow grease… or $26/pound?

Fresh cultured butter about to melt into a hot Hasselback potato. In the background right: a salmon fillet glazed with honey, homemade mustard and homemade apple scrap vinegar.

I have to be honest, this doesn’t taste as good as my $10/lb Amish butter … but they have the advantage of using raw cream, which cultures beautifully. This butter does still taste loads better than the supermarket Land-o-Lakes butter, however – fresh and cream-flavored – so it may become yet another homemade staple in our house. Besides, when making butter from scratch you can mix in all kinds of goodies like garlic and basil… and next year I hope to be selling fresh cultured honey butter with honey from my very own hives!

This experiment was promising enough that we will definitely be trying it again, though with a different brand of cream to see if it cultures better.

* No, I don’t cook or bake with salted butter, but I do highly prefer it for spreading on toast and biscuits. My plan is to divide this into little sticks and put them in the freezer (butter freezes wonderfully), leaving one at a time out in the butter dish to be soft. That way we’ll always have soft, spreadable salted butter on hand. And if it stays out too long and turns rancid (we don’t really eat that much bread & butter), it’s no biggie to throw out such a small quantity. Especially if it only cost pennies.

2 Responses to “Buttermaker”

  1. Rose Says:

    I made butter in my vitamix once. Really easy. I’m a cheater compared to you I suppose. 😉

    Have you tried butter from Trickling SPrings Creamery? (http://www.tricklingspringscreamery.com/) It is amazing and only $6 a pound.

  2. diana Says:

    I have not! But I bet it’s not cultured – that makes all the difference. I am definitely going to try their cream the next time I make cultured butter, though. A smaller company might pay closer attention to perfect temperatures and not overheat the milk, so it might culture better.

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