Handmade Organic Cultured Butter
Why would you want to make your own butter? Not a bad
question, but as you will soon be find out there are quite a
few perfectly legitimate reasons to do this:|
- Butterfat Content
In the US, butter must contain 80% minimum butterfat by
law. Since water is cheaper than butterfat, most commercial
butter is blended down to 80% post churning. Cultured small
batch butter ends up at more like 86%. The higher fat butter
is more plastic at low temperature, which makes it easier to
use in pastry, and the higher fat content also helps to make
pastry flakier and brings a more full flavor.
There are several brands of butter that don't blend down to
80% which are popular with bakers, the best known one is
which is made in the US and available at Whole Foods and
Trader Joes. There are also some more local brands in my Whole
Foods that report high butterfat content.
Home churned butter will be right up there in the 86% range
Commercial butter is a very uniform dispersion of water in
oil. The 80% target fat level and continuous churn processing
require such a product, but even higher end butters end up
this way due to the requirements of industrial production.
Home churned butter has a more marbled texture, with grains of
pure fat mixed with areas with higher water and milk
solids. This improves the performance in pastry and makes for
a more interesting spread.
Just using run of the mill cream from the store probably means
that you are starting off with better ingredients than the
average butter. But if you can find non-ultra heat treated
cream from pastured cows, that will vastly improve the
flavor. I use non-UHT organic cream from Butterworks farm in
Vermont, which strangely is stocked by my local Shaw's
supermarket. This cream is deep ivory since it is from
pastured cows (the plants they eat have higher beta carotene,
which colors the cream more than grain), and the butter made
from it is luminously yellow and smells insanely buttery. This
cream is from Jersey cows, which kick out a higher fat content
milk to begin with, plus the fat is dispersed in larger
globules than milk from other types of cows (which helps it
churn to butter more easily). When you open it up, it is all
thick in the top part of the bottle; it practically seems
halfway to being solid already. Its expensive, but worth
For quite some time I have noticed that the table butter at
nice restaurants often seems much more delicious than the
typical butter you buy at the supermarket. Once I tried a high
end artisan imported butter at Whole Foods but it was pretty
rank and very cheesy.
Then a year or two ago I wanted to get into cheesemaking. I
didn't have great luck with mozzarella, but my creme fraiche
and derivative products turned out excellent. I tried making
mascarpone by draining creme fraiche for 12 hours, and made
some nice tiramisus and fresh berry tarts with the resulting
tasty cheese. I also tried churning creme fraiche in the food
processor to make cultured butter and buttermilk, which turned
out wonderfully as well.
Cultured butter is not popular in the US, so it can be
difficult to find. The culturing intensifies the butter flavor
itself and also introduces a number of subtler secondary
flavors that greatly enhance the overall butter
experience. The action of the lactic bacteria also help break
down some of the structure which keeps the fat globules
apart. This increases the yield to butter over sweet cream and
also makes the butter come much quicker when churning.
For your homemade butter, you have complete control over the
type of cultures used for ripening the cream and how long you
let them work before churning.
- Fresh Buttermilk
Another side benefit of churning your own cultured butter is
that you will end up with fresh real buttermilk. This
buttermilk is excellent for baking, has a complex tang, and is
full of the natural emulsifiers which help keep the butterfat
in suspension in the cream (and which are lacking in
commercial buttermilk, which is actually just cultured skim
milk). These elements are why buttermilk was a prized
ingredient in many baking recipes for adding flavor and
helping to produce a smooth batter. You can use this
buttermilk in place of water to make pie crust, and the lactic
acid in the buttermilk will help tenderize the crust. Or use
it in pancakes, waffles, biscuits, or a cold cucumber
- Impressing your friends
I thought this one was a sure thing, but let me tell you
talking about the details of handmade cultured butter is not
going to get you any friends at a party. People will just
think you are weird and their eyes will glaze over. Trust me
on this one. Seriously.
The ideal cream is non-ultra pasteurized, high butterfat
content (36-40%), organic, and from pastured cows. I've read
that Jersey cream makes churning faster, due to a larger mean
size of the butterfat globules. One local product I can find
is Butterworks Farm organic Jersey cream, but in general it is
very difficult to find non ultra heat treated cream. I've read
that you can call your local 'Milk Control Office' and find
out where vat pasteurized cream is sold. I've actually used
Stonyfield Farm ultrapasteurized cream, and while it didn't
have the same depth of color or flavor as the Butterworks Farm
cream, it turned out pretty well.
The idea here is not to make a strongly cheesy butter, but a
complex and delicious product which will churn easily and give
a high butter yield. To this end, use a blend of mesophilic
lactic cultures like the standards s.lactis and s.cremoris,
with l.b.diaetylactis and m.s.cremoris if you want to go a bit
further. I find the 'creme fraiche' direct culture pack from
cheesemaking.com does a very nice job. I've also used their
'Buttermilk' and 'Mesophilic' packets with good results. I
think I slightly prefer the creme fraiche and buttermilk blends.
The Lactic Bugs
The most obvious requirement. The simplest solution is to just
use a jar or other container and shake or rock it. I've read
that this is great for entertaining kids and works well with
sweet cream, but I'm not sure how it would pan out with a
gloopy block of cultured cream.
I started out buttermaking using the food processor as a
churn. This works ok for small amounts of butter, though I've
read on the web that high speed churning with metal blades
affects the flavor in a negative way. You can also use a
stand mixer or even a hand blender.
In my opinion, for a medium sized batch of butter the best
option is to get a handcranked jar churn. Lehmen's
sells one new, or you can find an antique one on ebay
like I did. Dazey was a very popular brand for many
decades, so there are lots of those out there. These were
perfect for homes with one or two cows, and also for
households with milk delivery (i.e. everyone).
My churn is a Dazey #40, which is probably from somewhere
around 1920 and holds 4 quarts. I picked it up on ebay for $58.
Using cultured Butterworks cream, my hand churn actually works
faster than the food processor, with 3x the quantity. The
butter literally comes in 5-10 minutes or moderate speed
Plus, hand cranked food processing equipment has a special
place in my heart.
For measuring cream temp to prepare for culturing, and before
churning. I prefer a K type thermocouple based meter, but I'm
an engineer and thats how I like to roll. A good dairy,
brewing, or food thermometer will work too.
Strainer, pots, plastic containers, big spoons, spatula
For straining buttermilk from butter, double boiler for
warming the cream, etc.
If you want to shape your butter to look good when you are
done. I picked up a few molds off ebay, where many are sold
The first step is to culture the cream. First, use iodophor,
bleach, or boiling water to sanitize anything that will touch
the cream. This includes the container you will let it ripen
in, a stirring implement, and your thermometer. If you are a
homebrewer or cheesemaker you should already be familiar with
the relevant ideas here.
Use a double boiler set up to heat the cream to 86F. I just
use the jar from my churn to both heat the cream and hold it
When it reaches temp, remove from heat, add the culture and
stir to disperse. Put a lid on the container and let it sit at
room temp (around 70F) for about 12 hours.
It should be very thick, like yogurt, and smell tangy. You can
adjust how far you let the culture go to suit your own
preference. When you are happy with it, put it in the fridge
until you are ready to churn it. By the way, you can use this
creme fraiche for cooking or topping, or drain it in
cheesecloth to make mascarpone.
Before churning, let the cream warm up to 55-60F. In this pic,
I've taken some of the 6 pints of cream I had in the jar out
since I was worried about overflow. In retrospect I don't
think I needed to do that.
Getting to work
Churn away. Eventually you should see the cream start to get
grainy. In my hand churn, you also start hearing a shushing
noise. This is the butter coming, or the cream breaking into
butter particles and buttermilk. You can start to smell a
buttery scent at this point as well. Why does it smell
different than the cream? Strange.
About 5 minutes later
About 2 additional minutes more...
If you keep going, the butter particles will agglomerate more
and more. If you stop before they get too big, it will be
easier to wash the butter.
Washing and Working
Pour out the churn through a seive or cloth lined collander,
and save the buttermilk. Put the butter back in the churn with
about as much cold water as there was buttermilk, and churn
for a bit. Pour off this wash water in the sink and repeat a
few times; the wash water should start getting clear rather
than milky. Washing and working the butter helps to remove
buttermilk and consolidate the butter. Apparently if you leave
buttermilk in the butter it will go rancid more quickly. My
churn has a little screen at the top which allows me to pour
out wash water without unscrewing the lid, which is a nice
Dump the butter out on a board or in a bowl, and start working
it with a wooden implement. Press it, smoosh it, fold it, to
get as much water out as you can. I've read that overworking
or underworking can lead to texture problems, but I have no
experience to tell me what is the right amount.
This is also normally the stage for salting if you want to add
salt. I kept most of this batch unsalted for baking. Salting
does make it taste nice on bread and keep longer.
Half of the butter
I ended up breaking this spoon
Measure the butter out by volume or weight. I think it is
easier to do by weight since then you don't have to scrape fat
out of measuring cups, which I personally can't stand to
165g = one pie crust
This butter is destined to get combined with leaf lard to make lattice
crusts for six fresh picked sour cherry pies. I've squished
out the packs so that later on I can easily cut the butter
into cubes for crustmaking. I didn't have a nice butter mold
at this point, and they were only going to be around for a few
days, otherwise I would have made them look better.
Ready for pie making
If you want, you can mold the butter into nice looking blocks
or pats. I got this antique 1lb mold off ebay. These pictures
show me testing out the mold with the leftover chunk of butter
that I didn't need for pies. I salted it and molded it to
someday eat at the table. Since I'm on a bit of a diet right
now though I put it in the freezer. I taste tested it on a
rice cake, and it was awesome!
Ready to mold
Compress with handle
Eject from box
Peel pat off mold plate
Butter, you look so sexy to me
Design partially original and partially ripped off from other websites
Of course you can use this butter for anything you like. It is
excellent in pastry as outlined in the first section. I feel
like it melts a bit easier than regular butter, which is nice
for spreading and mouth feel, but makes pastry a bit more
challenging. I noticed I needed to put my crusts back in the
fridge more often than usual, but then again it's summer
I'd like to use this butter to make puff pastry, tamales, and
Like all butter, it can be frozen if you are not going to use
it right away.
by Holly Gates