Before you think I've gone around the bend, or am just one step closer to falling off the grid, I've got to explain the pure pleasure of FRESH butter. The rich, silky, smooth, slightly salty, bliss that crosses your taste buds is highly satisfying. Even more so when paired with the extravagant richness of homemade bread, roll, or biscuits.
So why On EARTH would you bother making your own butter when you can just grab a one pound block of sticks from the local mega mart? Sure, I still buy those blocks of butter. I use them for baking, where the quality will never be noticed, and I most certainly buy them during holiday baking season, when you can sometimes find a pound of butter for only 99 cents (HEY, there isn't a cent key on the keyboard anymore! - My petticoats are showing... I digress.)
So What IS the benefit?!
As a homeschooling mom it is just darn spiffy to be able to show a child HOW something is done, or WHERE it comes from, or even better, HOW THEY can do it. Sure, milk comes sterilized in those pretty white jugs that just magically appear in the refrigerator, right? Nope. It comes from dairy farm. A trip to the local dairy is an eye opener for most people, and downright shocking for some grown-ups that, for some unknown reason, imagine the whole process happens in pristine sterilized conditions.
A dairy, a real working dairy, is a stinky, smelly, muddy place, filled with giant bovine goodness. We are lucky enough to have a CSA Dairy about 2 miles from the house, Branched Oak Farm. They not only collect milk, but also make their own cheeses, and sell from a small retail outlet on the property. Their milking room has a large viewing window, to allow visitors to watch, while protecting their milk supply and work area from them. To an agrarian girl, it is a thing of beauty. The whole place; barn, house, and outbuildings are covered with brown Fire glazed red/brown tiles, that reflect and glint in the sunlight and add uniformity and a sense of organic organization to the whole farm. But the grittiness of the place tends to turn off the city folks who tend to look around, noses in a perpetual crinkle and then, upon entering their cars, strip their children of their shoes and wash them down in hand sanitizer.
Oh well, more for me.
There is something satisfying about watching a herd of Jersey Dairy cows slowly, happily, lazily, chewing their cud in the golden hour of sunset in the middle of a clover field. Sigh.....
So milk comes with hard work. Tending livestock isn't easy. Milking isn't easy. Separating isn't easy. But buying that gallon at the market is a breeze. It sure tastes better when you know, and understand, the amount of work that goes into it.
AND did you know the flavor of milk changes with the seasons? Every new mom knows that what goes in, comes out. Babies tend not to fancy their morning breakfast tasting of garlic. Cows, mammals, same deal. The flavor of the milk changes with the seasonal diet of the beasts. I am not a huge fan of spring milk or creams, as I think they taste heavily of "green", as it should, fresh new green meadow grass, and clover. It simply isn't a flavor I prefer. (Mega mart dairies use mega dairy farms, who usually just do feed grain, or food grade industrial by product to supplement their feed; crumbles from cereal manufacturers or, in one instance, from a candy factory. The sight of a dairy cow eating reject gummy worms is a funny, but NOT normal!)
The flavor of fresh butter is just amazing. I can't describe it more than "it's just MORE buttery" than the store bought brick that is homogenized and ultra pasteurized, and that alone is better.
If you will be making butter and using that day, soft right out of the mixer, or churn, there is just nothing to compare. It is light, airy, fluffy, creamy, smooth, and is something that cannot be achieved by allowing store bought butter to room temperature and whipping it. Nope, can't be done.
Set and chilled butter, is about the same texture, but again the taste..... see point 2.
How on does it compare on cost? Well if you ignore the time spent making it, and wrapping it, you just about break even. BUT you get a bonus!
Let me explain that. I can purchase from the local mega mart, a pound of butter for $3.69. I can also purchase a quart of heavy cream (NOT ultra pasteurized) for $3.69.
From this quart of cream, I get one pound of butter PLUS just over 2 cups of real, live, honest to goodness, buttermilk- the kind grandma and grandpa used to drink everyday. The kind with little chunks of butter still floating in it.
So, I not only get my fresh butter, but I get to have real buttermilk on hand for oatmeal, grits, waffles, sugar cream pie, buttermilk cookies, pancakes, or the simplest, bestest, easiest buttermilk biscuits ever! (plus the hens like buttermilk mixed in with their feed as a treat every once in a while. They also like steak trimmings. I swear, someday I'm going to see them chasing the herd next door!)
So here's how I make butter once a week.
I use a butter churn. Shocking as that may be! You can also use your counter or hand mixer on a low speed, but you need to make sure you cover not only the bowl, but the area around it, as splashes will occur. (I used to make butter in my 6qt kitchenaid, but I got tired of all the clean-up.) DO not use a blender or food processor, I find that they just mix at too high a speed, and the blades end up spinning nothing before the butter is done.
I use heavy whipping cream, use pasteurized, but NOT ULTRA pasteurized. And OLDER is better. This isn't milk. I buy it as close to that Sell By date as possible, or buy it and toss it in the back of the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
And here's the real trick. Set your container of cream on the counter, and walk away. Simply walk AWAY. Let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours. You want it to be room temperature. If you try to make butter from cold cream, you'll be churning, and cranking until the cows come home. And if you don't own any, that's a LONG TIME!
My churn is a one gallon churn. I never fill it more than halfway, you need the air space to allow the cream to move. Those fat globules need room to party and find each other, and separate out from the buttermilk.
While my cream is warming, I clean my churn. I use HOT soapy water, and bleach. I wash every part of it and then rinse with hot water and let it air dry. (My churn also gets washed after use, but washing before use, makes me feel better.)
Time to make the butter.
I empty the cream into the churn and secure the lid. At this point I start to crank, or better yet, hand it off to The Boy, who never seems to tire of making butter while watching TV. Turning the crank at about 80- 100 turns a minute (I don't really count. I just do what's comfortable.), I can have whipped cream at 10 minutes and butter in 12. It happens in the blink of an eye. One turn you have cream, the next: whipped cream, then butter and buttermilk! Magic!
My churn has a buttermilk port at the top. I find it useless. My lid leaks as you pour from it, more liquid come from the leak than from the port, so I don't bother. I simply remove the lid and pour. BUT WAIT, don't pour it down the sink! That's your buttermilk! The first pour I put into small lock-n-lock containers and straight into the fridge for future projects.
Now back to the glorious, yellow heaven in the jar. I pour the butter into my large kitchenaid bowl, or 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup.
The butter needs rinsed. Add cool water, about 3-4 cups' worth, and stir and mash the butter with either a spatula or, in my house, my butter spoon/spade. The water takes up the loose buttermilk in the butter and turns milky white. The butter will hold together. Carefully pour the white water down the drain. Rinse and mix and discard again. Usually this is only done twice, but I do it as many times as it takes for the water to be ALMOST clear again.
Drain as much water off as you can. Stir and smash the butter, and more water will work its way out. Discard this water.
Now you have butter- unsalted PLAIN butter. If you want salted this is where you mix it in. I use 1teaspoon per quart of cream used at the start. You can also easily add herbs at this point as well.
I use either small containers for table butter, or pour the whole pound into a rectangle shape container, smooth it and pack it tightly into the container, chill and cut into 4oz-ish sticks later. I also have wooden molds to press it into lovely shapes or pats with lovely designs on them.
Silicone molds for candies or ice are great for dinner party pats of butter.
When storing your butter, make sure you wrap it well, or keep it in a well sealed container, as fat picks up all the odd flavors in your refrigerator.
So there you have it...