After weeks of spying, planning and coordinating we were just about ready for our mission: break into Land O' Lakes headquarters and steal the secret of butter. Two days before the mission my grandmother, over for a visit, noticed my rugged black boots and apparently not very well hidden assault rifle. After much prodding and coaxing (involving Werther's hard candies... I know), I let slip some of the details of the upcoming mission. For all I know, some of our squad owes their lives to her. It seems she had the secret also. We learned a few days after that that Rogo's little sister, also divining our plan, printed out some instructions for him off of "the Internet". Next week's mission involves breaking into Land O' Lakes headquarters to learn the secret of "the Internet".

Anyways, here is how you make butter -

We start with (soured) cream

The, I just want to have fun in the kitchen method: Buy a pint of heavy cream, also known as whipping cream. It needs to sour a bit. Fresh cream will be much more difficult to separate into butter and will not taste like the butter you are expecting (if, that is, you even get butter from it). To sour it, leave it on the counter for a few hours. If you are using ultrapasteurized cream... Why are you using ultrapasteurized cream? Nobody told you to use ultrapasteurized cream. If you are though, it could take as long as a day to sour it properly.

Luddites: Fill up your pail with fresh milk from your cow or goat. Let the milk stand for a few hours so the cream will rise to the top. Using a broad, flat ladle, separate the cream off of the top. If you drill small holes in the ladle, say 1/16 of an inch or so, the milk will pour through leaving the cream behind. Do this for a few days or a week, storing the cream in a cool place. If you are refrigerating the cream while gathering it, it will also need to be soured. If you are storing it in your root cellar, it will probably sour sufficiently before it comes time to make the butter.

Churning the cream

Kitchen folk, your cream has been sitting on the counter for a few hours, souring, so it is probably already at the right temperature. Cream that is too cold or too hot will not separate into butter. Room temperature or just a bit cooler is about right, around 60F/15C. At this point you have several options:

  • Pour the cream into a quart jar, attach a lid and shake it like crazy. If you are the crafty type or plan on doing this often, you can fashion for yourself a 'mixer', a short dowel with a blade or two and either affix it to your lid or leave it free in the jar - the extra turbulence will speed things up by a few minutes. If you like that idea but don't want to go that far, throw in a few marbles. Either way, you are looking at about 10 minutes of good aerobic exercise before the butter separates from the buttermilk.
  • Pour the cream into a blender or food processor. I haven't tried this with a blender, so, I'm going to guess it will be the whip setting, and I'm going to further guess that you might have to do it twice with smaller amounts of cream. If you use a food processor, you'll be filling it up to half way full and using the big plastic blade or the whisk. You'll see the cream get frothy, then turn into whipped cream and finally it will separate into butter and buttermilk. Once the butter starts forming it will only be another minute or so.

Farm folk, pour your cream into your churn. Whether it is a plunger type churn or a paddle wheel churn, don't fill it more than half full. Given that we are using a lot more cream and making a lot more butter than those lazy city folk, we'll also be doing more work. If you have a plunger churn use consistent rapid strokes, about one second per cycle, turning the plunger a quarter turn each time or every few times. For the paddle churn, keep the same pace, about one second per cycle. Depending on the temperature of the cream you started with, this is going to take anywhere from 25 minutes to... it can take a while. Generally, you can tell by the resistance on the plunger or crank when the cream is separating. If you can't, take a peak every once in a while.

Separate and clean

Hobbyists, can use a strainer or cloth bag to separate the butter from the buttermilk. Keep the buttermilk if you are into baked goods, I'm sure we have some recipes around here you can use. Now put the butter into a bowl and using a large flat spoon mash the butter around the edges of the bowl to work out any remaining buttermilk, pour it off. Pour some cold water into the butter and continue mashing and pouring until you can pour off clean water.

Hippies, use your ladle and/or a big spoon to pull the butter out of the churn. The butter is the stuff that looks like butter, it is floating on the buttermilk and is stuck to the blades of your plunger or your paddle. Same as for the hobbyists, work the butter in a big bowl with a broad flat spoon and cold water. Keep washing the butter until you can pour off clean water.

Salt and store

This works the same regardless of amount. A general rule is one teaspoon of salt per pound of butter. While the salt is not required, it does act as a preservative and contributes to the flavor. If you are making less than a pound, just toss in a small pinch, mix it up and taste it, i.e. salt to taste. If the butter tastes too salty you can go back to washing it with cold water, the salt will wash out, slowly, with the water.

Now store your butter in a used margarine container, ramekins, a butter mold or roll it up in wax paper. Freeze it until you need it or refrigerate it over night for buttery toast goodness.

Tips and Ideas

  • While the washing process will take care of it, some people don't wash their butter. That is fine. Just make sure you get all of the buttermilk out. It can make your butter go rancid a lot faster.
  • If you are buying the cream, look for vat pasteurized cream rather than ultra heat treated or HTST cream. It is a taste thing. According to one website, if you are in the States you can call your State Department of Agriculture and talk to Milk Control to find out where to get the good stuff.
  • Make cultured butter. You can use cultured cream to make your butter by adding cultured yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche to your heavy cream. Let it sit on the counter twice as long to give it a chance to ferment a bit. It should taste a little sour and hopefully very yummy. If it smells yeasty or appears frothy or gassy, throw it out and try again.
  • From one old timer talking about churning on the farm: "If the cream wusen too hot, the butter would be too soft and puffy. Iffin it was too cold, it made little balls and butter wouldn't gather, stick together. Hot water, stirred with the dasher into cold liquid helped gather the butter."
  • Make flavored butter, also called compound butter. The possibilities here are enormous from fresh herbs and spices to diced fruits and vegetables in endless combinations. I'm thinking garlic, fresh ground black pepper, diced parsley and chives. Or maybe some of that whipped honey butter, yum.
  • If you are using butter molds, especially if you are selling your butter, make sure to work all of the air out before refrigerating it.