It’s Like Butter, Baby

We were in Vermont for a few days over Spring Break, during which time we visited Taylor Farm, as we always do when we’re up there. In addition to their excellent Gouda–their aged is my favorite–they also sell raw milk, and sometimes cream. For whatever reason, Milo got it into his head that he was going to make butter, so he did. I guided him through the process, but the work was all his doing. I’m all about better living though child labor.

Making butter is about as easy as burning toast, and much more rewarding. Take good local heavy cream (it’s not worth doing with pasturemogenized hormone-fed factory cream, and raw is best for that cultured flavor) and, using a whisk or a hand or stand mixer, make whipped cream. But then, and here’s the tricky part, YOU KEEP GOING, JUST LIKE A CRAZY PERSON WOULD. And then you get butter.

Cream is a complicated compound, and after thoroughly aerating it–beating tiny air bubbles in between all the microscopic globules of fat encapsulated by phospholipids, forming a colloidal suspension, (which is whipped cream), eventually the phospholipid membranes that surround all those tiny bubbles break down and the fat clumps together and you’ve got butter and buttermilk, which is the water and water-soluble substances that appear as if by magic when the emulsion is broken.

You go past the whipped cream stage, and it starts to get sort of grainy and crumbly. (Note the filthy fingernails. We live like animals. Don’t be like me. I die. Amen).

And then all of a sudden it gets much yellower and you’ve got actual clumps with a pale liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Mazel Tov! You made butter.

There’s just one more thing you need to do, unless you plan on eating it all in one sitting. The buttermilk will turn rancid in short order (which is why we use it to make fabulous sour things) so it needs to be rinsed out. Press the clotted mess against a sieve or wring it gently in a towel (saving all the buttermilk; I leave it out on the counter for a night or two to ripen), then plunk your hunk of butter in a bowl of ice-cold water and mash it around with a wooden spoon or similar device until the water gets good and cloudy. Change the water and do it again; it should get much less cloudy.

Purists might keep going until the water remains absolutely crystal clear, but a couple of times should do it. A little bit of residual buttermilk adds that inimitable cultured butter tang, anyway, so unless you really want it to stay fresh for weeks in the fridge, don’t sweat it too much.

Pour this through a strainer to catch all the solids, besprinkle it with a pinch of sea salt if you wish (I do), and then roll it into a log in waxed paper or parchment to store in the fridge. The amount below was the yield from one pint of cream. It’s pure genius, and if you use good local (ideally raw) milk the flavor can be a revelation. Especially if you slap a fat pat atop the pancakes you make the next morning using that fabulous buttermilk you so wisely saved.

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  1. April 10

    It does kind of feel like a magic trick, making butter. I love these kinds of things that seem like they’d be hard or require a lot of skill or equipment which are actually dead simple. What a cute kid you have, by the way!

  2. April 10

    What a cutie pie he is. So great to see the satisfaction in his smile!

  3. April 10

    Love it!!! Making your own butter is so fun and yummy! And I love the pictures of your son. Don’t worry, all kids’ fingernails look the same. They’d only stay impeccable if they lived in a bubble. Yours clearly doesn’t!

  4. April 10

    Nice job, Milo 🙂

  5. April 11

    Your kid is adorable (filthy finger nails and all :D). Here in India, we make butter out of fresh curd all the time. It isn’t yellow, infact it’s white (coz of the curds,)but it sure taste divine with all the parathas and rotis! I use it in my bakes also.

    • Peter
      April 11

      I need to start making parathas and rotis. And I also need to cut his finger nails.

  6. April 11

    Butter was my first culinary experience. Second Grade. Mrs. Cherry (seriously!. Pearl Harbor Elementary. Shaken in a Mason jar that was passed around the class room twice then eaten on Ritz crackers. From humble beginnings… Think Big Milo!

    • Peter
      April 11

      It’s the gateway drug.

  7. April 11

    your son is adorable! hmmm, now you have me thinking, this spring – when I make my year’s worth of butter, I need to lay down the jars and all that shaking and just bust out the kitchen aid.

    • Peter
      April 11

      For that quantity, I would. How much cream do you buy?

      • April 11

        8 gallons of cream from spring grass-munching jersey girls. the butter is so yellow ifs borderline orange. last spring was the first time we did it to last the whole year and I think I judged it right. we’re down to the last bit and should be ready for another round of 8 gallons early june. I keep it in pint & half pint jars in our chest freezer and I can’t taste a difference in quality at all 10 months in.

  8. April 11

    I can’t wait to do this kind of stuff with J. Seriously, you guys are in inspiration. And I can’t believe how grown-up and handsome Milo is getting – I remember when he was just a peanut!

  9. April 11

    Ah, and so much nicer that he didn’t use one of those abominable counter-hogging stand mixers. Was it your mom’s?

    Too bad you can’t do a return trip soon: your herbs are teh perfect unctuous crunch for herbed butter. Have him make your winter stash next.

    • Peter
      April 11

      They’re not abominable; I use the meat grinder all the time. We can get raw milk/cream here too, and the chives are up…

  10. April 11

    Your piece took me back to fourth grade where we made butter in class with Mrs. Vohs, the best teacher ever.

  11. April 11

    Yay Milo!

    Making butter is so rewarding. I so wish my son wasn’t deathly allergic to dairy protein.

    Our most popular DIY demos at our community outreach tables is making butter. The kids get really into it! We do it the kindergarten-class style- all arm muscle w/ a mason jar. Too fun!

    • Peter
      April 11

      Later in life, they can use the same skill and arm strength to make martinis.

  12. Andrew
    April 11

    If you want even more tang, throw a dollop of your homemade yogurt in the bowl of cream, stir gently to mix, cover with a plate and let it incubate at room temperature or someplace warm for 12-24 hours, until it has a creme fraiche consistency. Then proceed as above and now you’ve got cultured butter which is even more delightful. I like to mix mine in a Bosch spiral mixer with the lid on. That way the buttermilk doesn’t splash all over the place when the butter starts clumping, which can make your kitchen look like a Ron Jeremy flick. As long as you get most of the buttermilk out, you can make pretty large batches and the extra will keep well in the freezer. It’s fun to make cultured butter at home, and I always have a hearty supply on hand, but I don’t like doing it every week.

    • Peter
      April 11

      I met Ron Jeremy once; he came to the opening of a group show I was in.

      Wait, that sounds bad.

      • Andrew
        April 12

        He might like to borrow some of your butter for his next production.

  13. Elizabeth
    April 11

    I made butter at camp 100 years ago with a butter churn. I LOVE that your son wants to cook and make and do.

  14. That kid resembles you quite a bit. I remember you as a big-eyed long-haired pre-pubescent.
    I don’t have a mixer, but I want to do this. Should I just get another one, the cheap hand kind? I lost custody of mine in the divorce…

    • Peter
      April 16

      Why spend the money? Just have your kids shake a mason jar full of cream.

  15. […] in nicely. There are a million ways to make butter – from shaking to churning to hand-mixing to my preferred lazy method in the stand mixer. Any way you agitate your cream, 20ish minutes and […]

  16. I’ve always wondered what Milo looked like… he really is adorable. He’s a lucky kid – making butter and all at his age! Next time you get him to make butter with his DAMN HANDS LIKE A REAL MAN!

  17. May 4

    So inspiring! As soon as I am near a mixer again I want to try this! Also, I love that you used the word “besprinkle,” I didn’t know that it existed.

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