DIY: Butter

Getting your hands on some butter is as easy popping in the grocery store. (And you are using butter, right? No more margarine!) But why buy what you can make? Homemade butter is creamier than the store-bought stuff and boasts a richer, more complex flavor; it’s not as difficult to make as you might think; and, there’s more than one way to milk this particular cow. Choose the modern method, and you’ll transform easily available ingredients into butter in a matter of minutes. Try the old-fashioned way, and while you’ll need a few specialized tools, some time and a little brow sweat, proving you could have survived the pioneer life (at least part of it) will be as sweet a reward as that first bite of your butter.

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Little House on the Prairie Way

Why This Way? Churning butter can be a little time-consuming and takes some elbow grease, but it can be a wonderful, hands-on way to teach your kids about patience and persistence as well as our agricultural heritage. (And, yes, you can count it as your daily exercise!)

  • Step 1: You’ll need a butter churn with a top. See if you can borrow one. We bet your aunt or mom or grandmother has one, even if it is currently only serving a decorative purpose (and they’ll happily let you borrow it if you return it with a block of fresh, hand-churned butter).
  • Step 2: You’ll also need a dasher. Lots of churns turned plant-holders or corner-space-taker-uppers lost their dasher long ago. But you can make one with a wooden dowel and some lumber pieces from your local hardware store. Find instructions here.
  • Step 3: You can use heavy cream, but if you want to be authentic, use raw milk, straight from under a cow. Don’t own a cow? Try the next best thing: organic, pasteurized but non-homogenized whole milk. Thanks to Alabama’s Working Cows Dairy (read our article on this great place), you can grab a few gallons of this kind of milk at stores around the state. Check their website for stores that stock their products.
  • Step 4: Skim the cream off your milk and place it in a large bowl or pitcher. (You’ll be able to readily see the good stuff sitting on top). Fill your churn half-full with the cream and let it sit at room temperature to “clabber.” This is an important step and could take several hours. Test it with a a food thermometer, and when it is about 55-60 degrees (a little cooler than room temp), you’re ready to start the fun part: churning. Move the dasher up and down, trying to keep a consistent, rhythmic motion. We suggest singing to help keep a steady beat. Watch the hole in the churn’s top and the sides of the dasher. Once you see small “grains” of butterfat (probably in 20-30 minutes), you’re almost done. Take the top off for a look inside, and you’ll either see a nice big blob of butter floating in liquid, or you won’t. If you do, move on to the next step. If not, keep a-churning ‘til you do.
  • Step 5: Retrieve your butterball from the remaining buttermilk in the churn and place it in a large section of cheesecloth to strain. Squeeze it to remove as much liquid as you can, then place the butter into a clean bowl with a little ice water. Roll it around and push it against the sides of the bowl, squeezing any more liquid out. This washing process will help keep the butter fresh. Pour off the water and do this at least one more time.

Success! Now your butter is done. You can salt it now if you like. Press it into pretty molds if you have them. Or just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. It will keep one week in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer.

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Today’s Way

Why This Way? Because you crave the simple, smooth pureness of homemade butter but have zero patience and even less time.

  • Step 1: Add 2 cups heavy cream (get organic if you can) to your electric mixer’s bowl and turn it on. Let it blend on medium speed and watch the transformation with wonder. You’ll see the soft peaks of whipped cream first, then stiff peaks. These will then fall and become a thicker mixture with small beads and blobs of butterfat pulling away from the liquid. Soon, these beads will come back together while the liquid, which is basically thin buttermilk, stays in the bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixer off and pour off the liquid.
  • Step 2: Press the butter together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and place it in cheesecloth so you can squeeze any remaining liquid out. Put the butter back in the bowl and add a little ice water while rolling it around and squeezing it against the sides of the bowl to “bathe” it. Do this at least twice, squeezing out all the liquid again each time. Put it in the cheesecloth one last time if needed.

And there you have it: butter. You can salt it now if you like. Press it into pretty molds if you have them. Or just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. It will keep one week in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer.

You’ve Made Your Butter, Now Eat it Too

Mission accomplished. You did it. And if you did it all Laura Ingalls’ style, double congrats! You can rest easy knowing that if left to your own devices a century or two ago, despite the fact that you can’t build yourself a home or sew your own clothes, you would’ve had plenty of homemade butter, so at least you wouldn’t have starved. You can survive on just butter, right?