Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer
After decades under scrutiny, butter has finally making its rightful comeback in the kitchen. Traditional cooks knew all along that butter was nourishing and healthy, but only recently has the modern housewife rediscovered this culinary staple.
For decades, butter had a bad reputation, partially due to (un)scientific health claims and partly to that fact that it was lumped together with industrial butter sourced from feedlot cattle.
Deep golden yellow butter made from the cream of grass-fed cows free of hormones and antibiotics, pasteurized at lower temperatures or (preferably) not at all, is quite different that the pale sticks dressed up with natural flavorings in the big chain grocery stores. This is an important distinction to make. Let’s first take a brief look at some of the benefits of real butter in comparison to conventional butter before I share some tips for making your own at home.
Benefits of Pastured Butter
Green grass and exposure to sunlight, pared with fresh air and clean water, contribute to a higher vitamin and mineral content in grass-fed (pastured) butter, as well as a more ideal composition of healthy saturated fats. Pastured butter is high in omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The fat composition of grass-fed milk creates a softer and more spreadable butter than the conventional kind.
Conventional butter contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids due to the confinement diet made up mostly of (genetically-modified) corn and soy. Feedlot cattle are given hormones to increase their milk production beyond what they are naturally and safely able to produce. This unhealthy strain on their bodies combined with cramped and dirty living space and the unnatural diet creates a need for antibiotics, without which, they would surely become sick.
Considering the Cost
The differences between pastured and conventional butter are enough to consider them two completely different foods, in my opinion. Good quality pastured butter is expensive, though. With a family of eight, we go through a lot of butter, and purchasing pastured butter would be difficult to work into the budget.
Fortunately, making our own butter is more cost effective and oh, so easy! For about $8 worth of cream, I can make about two pounds of butter and one quart of buttermilk.
Other benefits of making your own butter include a fresher product, knowing the source of the cream, making sure no extra ingredients are added, and being able to add our own real salt, herbs, or honey when desired.
Making Your Own
There are several ways to make butter. It can be as simple as shaking cream in a mason jar (my old method) or mixing or blending in a stand mixer, blender, or food processor. I’m going to walk you through my method for making butter in a stand mixer.
I have heard that butter doesn’t always “break” (separate from the buttermilk and clump together) in a blender or food processor, so I prefer to stick with the tried and true mixer method, one that’s always worked for me without fail. You might prefer a different method. Anything that agitates the cream sufficiently gets the job done!
Gather your tools and ingredients. Butter is incredibly easy to make, but having a few tools on hand makes the job even easier. I gather a bowl and fine mesh strainer for straining buttermilk, a larger strainer with larger holes for rinsing the butter, a jar for buttermilk, and a jar for the butter. I also keep some butter on a serving dish to be used first. (Note: You can make due with one strainer, but ideally, a fine mesh works best for straining the buttermilk and one with larger holes works best for rinsing the butter since it is less likely to pool up in the strainer. You can also use cheesecloth or a nut bag instead of a strainer if you prefer.)
You will end up with about half butter, half buttermilk, so plan your jars accordingly. You may also wish to add salt or spices to your butter.
Grab the kids, too! Butter making is a great task for children, so bring them into the kitchen and teach them this basic skill. Little ones also enjoy the mason jar method of shaking the cream into butter.
All you need to make butter is some quality cream. Find a good source of cream from healthy cows raised on pasture. For optimal nutrition and flavor, choose raw (ideal) or vat-pasteurized (second-best option) cream.
My family consumes more butter than we can make from the cream in our fresh milk, so I also purchase a local vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized cream from grass-fed Jersey’s raised without hormones or antibiotics.
Traditionally, cream (after being separated from the milk) was placed in a churn at room temperature for several days until enough cream was obtained to make a batch of butter. During this process, the naturally-occurring bacteria in milk fermented the cream. The milk sugar, lactose, is converted into lactic acid, resulting in that tart, full-bodied flavor. Citrate, another substance in milk, is converted into diacetyl, which creates that characteristic “buttery” flavor.
You can culture your cream by simply placing raw milk on the counter for 12-24 hours or you can add a starter culture (likely a strain of strep..lactis) to milk that has been pasteurized. I have only used the raw milk method, but I am going to try using a purchased starter culture when I make up a large batch of the last of fall butter this week. Cultures for Health sells starter cultures.
I like to make several smaller batches at a time to reduce the splattering and to more efficiently work the buttermilk out of the butter. I use one quart of cream at a time. This makes about one pound of butter. If I’m starting with a half gallon of cream, I’ll repeat the process a second time. If I start with one gallon of cream, I will go through this process four times total.
Pour the cream into the mixer with a whisk attachment and start off on a lower speed to prevent splattering. Increase the speed as the cream begins to thicken. In this first step, you’re essentially making whipping cream.
Once past the “whipping cream” stage, the cream will start to clump together. This happens because the protein casings surrounding the fat molecules is agitated and removed, causing the fat globules to stick together.
Keep a close eye during this stage because the buttermilk will separate quickly and start sloshing around in (and out of) the bowl.
Pour the buttermilk into another container using the fine mesh strainer. This gets the bulk of the buttermilk out of the butter.
Be sure to use this precious buttermilk and not let it go to waste. It tastes good alone and is delicious in baked goods like pancakes or waffles. It is not the same as store-bought buttermilk that contains additives and fillers.
Rinse the clumps of butter and squeeze out the remaining buttermilk. The buttermilk will make the butter go rancid faster, so it is important to remove as much as possible.
This is a good time to add salt or herbs, if desired. You can even add things like cinnamon and honey if you wish to make a sweeter butter. (Adding salts and spices at this stage allows you to preserve the buttermilk during the previous stage.)
Just work your salt or spices into the butter as you press it with a wooden spoon to get as much of the buttermilk out as possible. This is where an old-fashioned wooden butter press would come in handy. My husband is planning on making one for me soon! You can get creative and “press” it with two different sized jars or other materials you have on hand.
Form the butter into your preferred shape or just place it into a container for storage.
From one half gallon of cream, I end up with a quart of buttermilk and about two pounds of butter. One pound is put into a jar and one is placed in a little butter serving dish to be used up first.
Sweet Cream Butter
To make sweet cream butter, simply eliminate the culturing step. This creates a subtle, fresh flavor, still very flavorful and healthy.
The average store-bought sweet cream butter contains additives in the form of “natural flavorings” to achieve a more “buttery” flavor like that of cultured butter. Homemade sweet cream butter, will not achieve as deep a flavor as cultured butter, but it is still delicious in its own way.
Handling and Storing
If you are careful to remove all the buttermilk, your butter can be kept at room temperature for several days. I prefer to keep mine refrigerated, though.
For optimal flavor and nutrient retention, butter should be kept away from heat, light, and metal, since these things will oxidize and break down the fat faster. Butter also absorbs odors from its surroundings, so store in an air-tight container or cover butter that will not be used up right away.
Butter and buttermilk can both be stored in the freezer if you don’t plan to use them up within about a week. Butter is the most nutritious in the spring through fall months due to the taller and faster growing grass, so you might wish to stock up on cream during these times and freeze butter for later.