Making Butter as a Spiritual Experience

May 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Making butter is a good exercise in trust. Because I make mine with the cream I spoon off the top of non-homogenized milk, I don’t do as precise a job as a machine would, ending up with some milk in my cream, which makes the whole process take quite a bit longer than it would if you were to use commercially separated heavy cream.

For those of you who are not that well familiar with the composition of milk in that carton in your fridge, milk can contain either all of the original cream God put in it (whole milk), some (2% and so on), or none at all (skim). Because much of the storebotten milk is homogenized – a process which blends cream and milk artificially – you can’t really see how much cream there really is as you would with non-homogenized milk, where the cream naturally floats to the top after your rest it in the fridge for a few hours or longer.

Because I buy my milk non-homogenized (pasteurized but not homogenized milk is available in returnable glass jars at some food cooperatives), I am able to ladle the cream off the top of each milk jar after it’s been parked, undisturbed, in the fridge overnight. I get approximately a quart and a half of cream from 4 gallons of milk, and that, in turn, makes somewhere around 1/2 to 3/4 lb of butter (this math is not precise – I am doing some rough estimating here). While I could hardly get all of my butter this way, I get a nice little amount to eat directly on bread, and it’s just that much fresher and yellower than the packaged stuff. I also culture my cream with piima culture, which gives the butter a slightly tangy flavor, as well as shortens the time required to whip the cream to the point where it separates into butter and buttermilk. To me, this subtle tang in butter tastes very Old World.

If you have/want to use piima, note that there are two ways to do it. You can either add some piima-cultured cream to regular sweet (non-cultured) cream and proceed to whipping right away, or allow the mixture to culture overnight at room temperature, so that by morning all of the cream becomes piima-cultured. Expect a stronger tang this way, but also a shorter whipping time, since, I don’t know why or how, piima clearly works as a stabilizer.

In this case, I didn’t let the entire mass of my cream culture overnight, using 50% piima cream and 50% sweet cream, which is why I think it took me the entire 40+ min (normally it’s more like 20 to 30 min). Also, the butter came out grainier than normal, as you will see in a moment, making it nearly impossible for me to mold it into a solid ball as I usually do (see the picture below):

This time, my butter looked more like this:

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See how much grainier it is? That’s how much difference piima makes when you separate your own cream. Still, it was every bit as delicious, and spread perfectly well at room temperature.

But let me walk you through the steps.

Pour your cream into a bowl of an electric stand mixer, and, using a whisk attachment, whip it as for whipped cream. I didn’t take a picture of it, since, I am sure, you know what it looks like. Note that you don’t have to use a mixer – butter can also be made by placing cream into a covered ball jar and shaking it violently for an extended period of time, but I would be lying if I said that I came to this country to do things by hand when I don’t really have to.

One more thing – I do it at a rather high speed, perhaps the second or the third fastest, depending on your mixer’s model. If you find your cream splashing all over you, the walls, and every surrounding surface, just throw a towel over the mixer to keep it all inside.

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After such prolonged period of agitation,  the whipped cream will become grainier, and, finally, the magic will happen – all of a sudden, a white, milky liquid will seep out from the by-now yellow solids. Congratulations! You’ve just made butter and buttermilk.

Now when I say that making butter in an exercise in faith, trust, and resolve, what I mean by this is that when you separate your cream yourself by the above rudimentary method, you’ll find yourself watching whipped cream in your mixer bowl staying at the point of whipped cream for a very, very long time (the longest it ever took me was 40 or 45 min or so), without undergoing any visible changes. The important thing is not to panic, and just to let it do its thing – it will get there eventually, as it did in the above picture. This ability to wait for a very long time without being in the least discouraged by the apparent lack of any kind of change in the situation is something I’ve learned as a deer hunter. The toes might be freezing, the time might have ground to a standstill, and the distant squirrels and a few juncos might be the only things you’ll hear for hours, but, if you just don’t move, at sundown the deer will, almost certainly, walk out of the woods to graze in the hay fields. And that’s when you’ll be there, waiting in the bushes with a full magazine.

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Anyhow, once the magic point has been reached, I like to use a fine-mesh sieve to drain the butter, set atop another pot or some other container for catching the buttermilk. Just pour some of the butter-and-buttermilk (formerly whipped cream) mixture into the sieve…

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And watch some of the buttermilk immediately drain into the vessel below.

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You’re going to have to press the rest of the buttermilk out by hand, using spatula or a wooden spoon. To do this, just press the butter for a while…

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Watching the buttermilk seep out and drain…

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Until you get to this point.

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Next, we’re going to rinse our butter of the remaining buttermilk under cold running water. Just let the cold water run over the butter while pressing with the spatula. I learned this from the Little House in the Big Woods.

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At this point, I also like to use the roundness of the sieve to shape my butter into a ball, but that wasn’t working in this case. No matter. We still have butter.

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Transfer your butter into a separate bowl, turn your sieve over, and scrape the butter from the bottom of the sieve into the bowl. Repeat with the rest of the buttermilk-butter mixture still in your mixer bowl. If you prefer your butter salted, you may wish to add salt at this time. Myself, however, I didn’t grow up with salted butter, so I leave my homemade butter in its pure, original, unsalted form.

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Compare the canary-yellow of my homemade butter from pastured cattle to the pale-yellow of the commercial organic butter.

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And then you end up with all of that lovely buttermilk, which you can now use to make cakes, buttermilk pies, or even feta cheese, which is what I love to do with it.

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§ 2 Responses to Making Butter as a Spiritual Experience

  • Catherine says:

    Thank you! Someday, would you teach us how to make feta? That would be awesome.

    • Sofya says:

      Hi Catherine! I got feta recipe from the cheesemaking class instructor, and I then asked her if she was OK with my sharing it on the blog, and she said that she wasn’t… Maybe I’ll find a different recipe.

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