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.