How Hard can It Be?
The first time I made butter, I Googled it, followed the directions, and got about 3 ounces of butter from a half gallon of milk. And the butter was bland, bland, bland. And crumbly to boot.
There is more to making butter than shaking milk in a jar, ya’ll. Just sayin’.
Happily with some more research and a little practice, I am a now butter-makin’ Godess!
The Right Stuff
The British have two terms for cream that are particularly relevant to this topic: Single Cream and Double Cream. Single cream is skimmed from milk that has sat for 12 hours. It’s pretty good for yogurt, and to put in your coffee. It’s kind of like Half and Half. Double cream is skimmed from milk that has sat at least 24 hours. If you want really good butter, use Double Cream. You will also waste less of your milk doing this. If you don’t have access to real, raw milk (bless your heart), then buy organic, unhomogenized milk that has not been “ultra” pasteurized to make your dairy products. Ultra-Pasteurized is another word for “sterilized” and you need the beneficial bacteria in milk to make really great butter and other dairy products.
How to Make Amazing Butter
Once your milk has sat undisturbed for 24 hours, skim the cream off the top. I pour the milk into wide-mouth mason jars as soon as I get it home, so it’s easier to skim the cream the next day. Once you collect the cream, leave it sitting at room temperature until it cultures and thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. This depends on temperature and humidity, but 2-3 days is what you can expect before the milk is cultured.
Don’t worry, it won’t go bad; the beneficial bacteria is still thriving, and putting out acids that prevents the milk from going rancid. Be sure to leave some space in the jar, as the cream expands while it cultures. You may see the cream begin to separate from the whey; this is just fine. When fully cultured, it will smell like sour cream or buttermilk; it should not smell “bad” like rancid milk.
Pour the cultured cream into a large bowl, and use a mixer to make your butter. This takes a bit, I’m not gonna lie. A Kitchenaid Mixer would be a blessing. Since I don’t have one, I am using a regular mixer on an improvised stand, set on medium. It usually takes about 20 minutes for the cream to turn to butter. You will see it clot and separate from the buttermilk. Let the mixer run for about 5 minutes after you see this happen.
The next step is to pour the mixture into a buttercloth-lined strainer (muslin works pretty well, too, but you will lose butter if you use cheesecloth). Be sure to collect the buttermilk, ‘cuz it’s the main ingredient in melt-in-your-mouth biscuits that you’ll want to make the next day. Once most of the buttermilk has drained, put the butter in the largest bowl you have and fill it with cold water. Cut the butter and move it around – many times – to remove the remaining buttermilk. When the water gets cloudy, refill the bowl with fresh cold water. You want to get as much of the buttermilk out as you can, to extend the shelf life.
When the water stays clear put the butter, a bit at a time, back into your rinsed cloth & use the cloth to help dry the water off the butter. Then turn into the bowl, add salt to taste (which takes way less than most Southerners would think), and then put it into a storage container. Wide mouth jars work pretty well, or you can use a loaf pan as a mold, then cut it into sticks with a hot knife, and wrap it in wax paper. I prefer the second method.
Storing Homemade Butter
We keep a stick of butter in a dish on the counter because cold butter is a drag; it tears up your biscuits and pancakes. And yes, you can safely store butter on the counter. It will be fine for up to a week provided the room temp stays at 70-ish. Butter is over 80% fat, which isn’t a great food source for bacteria, and the salt further deters bacterial growth. Trust me: a stick of homemade cultured butter will never be around more than a week, anyways. It’s good enough to eat off of a spoon. Store the rest of your butter in the refrigerator.