making raw-cream butter
This is more complicated than the lady at the dairy council table at the county fair, who uses centifugally separated, pasturized, homogenized, whatnot-ed cream, makes it look. On the other hand, it is not difficult; it is just more a complex operation when you are using living cream. You can make butter in a mixer or a blender. You can make it in a mason jar, if you have lots of people with nothing better to do than stand around shaking the jar.
We use an old Sears Roebuck butterchurn purchased years ago for the astronomical sum of twenty-five dollars, and put away in hopes that one day we would have a cow, and, consequently, a use for a butter churn. It wouldn’t go at first, but Shawn dismantled it and fiddled with it, and after that it was fine. This often happens with our second-hand electrical gadgets. It was a good purchase, and we hope it will last the rest of our natural lives, because butter churns are expensive. Really.
Our churn is for a gallon jar, which means it can only churn a half-gallon of cream at a go. This is fine, but we get a lot of cream, and use a lot of butter, and would like now to be able to process butter in one- to two-gallon lots. Pursuant of this goal, we will be watching this summer at garage sales and auctions for an old, all-metal, heavy-duty stand mixer. We feel sure we could use the motor and housing, remounted on a taller base, to power a two-gallon churn; a food-grade four or five gallon bucket, and a single propeller-style dasher on a long stem, should convert your ordinary mixer into a large butter churn. Watch for updates.
We skim every morning. We use a dipper to lift the cream off the top of each gallon of milk, previously cooled overnight in gallon pickle jars in our basement refrigerator. Skimming is not difficult, and practice makes proficient. The top of the cream tends to clot into a thick skin, which will stick to the bottom of your dipper and make it hard to gather the cream; this can be avoided for the most part by wetting your dipper at the sink before you start. You can also use the bottom of the dipper to sort of edge the clotted top cream to one side so that it can be scooped up first. In glass jars you can see the cream line, so you will know how far down the jar to go; after a while you won’t need this clue, because you will see the cream flowing in over the rim of your dipper, and when it runs in streaky blue you are getting milk. There is no need to take every last bit of cream, anyway; it makes better drinking milk if you don’t, and even if you feed the skim milk to the pigs and chickens, they will convert it into bacon and eggs, and who would consider that a waste?
We ususally collect cream for a couple of days before churning, so that we can make several half-gallon batches at once, thus saving ourselves cleaning the utensils after every pound of butter. One-half gallon of cream makes about a pound of butter, and leaves something more than a quart of buttermilk. This is not the cultured product you buy in the store, which usually isn’t buttermilk at all, but just milk cultured with mesophilic lactobacili and thickened with carageenan or something like that. Real buttermilk is the byproduct of churning cream into butter, and made with sweet cream it is sweet and lowfat and delicious. Made with more cultured cream, it is acidic and may also be delicious, but this will depend upon how clean your culture was. The butter, we hasten to assure you, will be good regardless; but the taste of the buttermilk will vary the way that of yogurt does when you have kept a culture going for a long time. It will still be good for cooking with, or for feeding to the hogs over bakery waste scraps. In any case, the quality of your buttermilk is not something to get uptight about, as the keeper of a family cow will have lots of buttermilk.So we wait until we have collected a gallon or two of cream before we churn.
On the day we intend to churn, we set the cream out on the counter for a couple of hours to warm and culture. This is sufficient for summer cream and summer butter; of winter butter we will treat at another time. An hour or so on the counter for summer cream, and you are usually ready to churn. How will you know? You won’t know, you just try. If you churn for half an hour and your butter doesn’t come, give it an hour’s rest and try again.
What you are waiting for is the cream to warm and acidify enough that the globules of milk fat present in the cream will gather together in clumps when they are bashed about. If this has happened, you will churn your butter for something between five and twenty-five minutes, while the cream passes through several stages; first liquid cream, then to whipped cream, then over-whipped cream (rather runny). After this is a stage in which the milkfat globules are gathering into small grains of butter; these should, as you continue churning, gather into big lumps, which will be yellow in the summer, and almost white in the winter.Sometimes, however, the butter stalls between the last and next-to-last stages, and you have to wait a while and try again when (we speculate) the cream has further acidified.
Summer butter is usually easy to make, having naturally present in it plenty of lactobacilli for making it acid quickly. Just be sure not to leave it on the counter long enough to reach room temperature; in the summer, when indoor temperatures might be anywhere from seventy-five to ninety-five degrees, room temperature cream will churn into slick butter, warm and shiny, and if you overchurn it, into fluffy butter. Both conditions make the butter difficult to wash, and difficult to handle. My churn does not have an automatic shutoff when the butter clogs the dasher. It just slows down, sticks, and starts burning up the motor. Bad idea. So far we haven’t ruined the churn, but we try to stay in the near vicinity when we churn, to catch the butter as soon as it comes.You know it is butter when it makes big lumps, yellow or white, which float in the residual buttermilk.
To drain our butter we wedge a slotted spoon, a ravioli turner, really, in the opening of our jar, and pour out the buttermilk, holding the butter back with the spoon. We pour out as much as we can, saving it for cooking or for the animals, and then add cold water to halfway up the side of the jar, reinsert the dasher, and churn the water and butter for a few seconds.
We drain this milky water off, refill the jar with cold water to the halfway mark, and churn again. In all, we wash in at least three waters. Four is almost always enough to ensure that the water runs mostly clear, indicating that the pockets of buttermilk in the butter have been replaced by pockets of cold water. This serves the dual purpose of washing the (very degradable) buttermilk out of the (only slightly degradable at cool temperatures) finished product, the butter, and of cooling the made butter so that it may be packed firmly and the water pressed out of it. If what we have made is the slick butter that comes from over-warmed cream, this cold-water washing will sometimes firm the butter up, remedying the situation. Sometimes not. Of which, more anon.
We have not always washed our butter this way. In the Pleisiostene age, about three years ago, we were still washing our butter in a wooden bowl and pressing it with a wooden spoon to work the buttermilk and cold water out of it. We used many changes of water, and about ten minutes of our precious time, and got a kink in our shoulder doing it this way, and it is a very good way to do it, and I recommend it highly. Only, if you get in a bind for time, you have an option.It’s nice to know how to do things the hard way before you start making a habit of doing it some other way. We used to cut and rake and lift all our hay, loose, and by hand, too.
Once the butter is washed, you must drain off what water you can, and then press out whatever remains in pockets in the butter. This isn’t something to get uptight about, since it won’t spoil your butter if there is still a little water in it; you just work the butter by pressing it with a wooden spoon, or your hand, only your hand will warm the butter, or the paddle atatchment on your stand mixer, until you can no longer pour off any water. Then you add salt, work the butter to mix the salt in, and there you are. Butter.
We make ours into one pound rolls by working it with a wooden spoon, and refrigerate them if they are not to be used immediately; if we have more than two pounds made, we wrap the butter in waxed paper after we chill it and put it away in the freezer.
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, which, if they are like mine, may be stronger on initiation than follow-through, you will end up with a product that can’t be washed, can’t be shaped, maybe can’t even be gathered into a lump. Sometimes your butter won’t “come”, which means that no matter how long you churn it, you don’t get a lump of butter you can fish out of the churn and process. You may end up with a churn full of over-whipped cream with small, soft grains of butterfat, or ditto, with small, firm grains of real butter that for some reason won’t adhere to one another and make a manageable lump. Sometimes when your butter comes, it is a slick, shiny, fluffy mess impossible to wash or shape. Sometimes, I’ll be frank with you, you’ll end up with a churn full of something you will be glad to give to the pigs and forget.
Sometimes, but not too often. Mostly, you can convert the variations you encounter in home kitchen butter making into real, firm butter, with just a little extra manipulation. Take the instance of the churn full of tiny firm grains of butter over a shallow layer of thin, sweet buttermilk. You have let the churn run for some time after this stage was reached, and still the butter won’t gather. The contents of the churn, when you shut it off, resemble something like runny cream-of-wheat.
There are two possibilities here that we know of. One is to give the churn another hour on the counter, while the culture continues to grow, and then try again. Maybe by that time the cream will be acidic enough to gather itself into a ball when you churn it. Maybe not. But in case this doesn’t do the trick, if your grains are firm enough it will sometimes work to drain the grainy stuff through a piece of cheesecloth for several hours, chill it, and then put it through the mixer to express the buttermilk. This means you will have skipped the stage of washing the buttermilk out, so you want to keep this butter in the refrigerator and use it soon, but otherwise it is butter, and no harm done.
Regarding summer butter, the commonest problem we have met with is one we call Fluffy Butter. This means you let the cream get too warm during ripening, and the churn, instead of gathering the firm granules of butter as they form, has whipped the soft lump of butter into a fluffy mass. It is difficult to drain this butter, since it tends to adhere to the slotted spoon we drain with, clogging the holes. The remedy we use in this case is to shove the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle into the refrigerator for a while, until the butter is firm enough that we can move on to the next step.
Often by thus chilling the butter you can right the whole situation; you will be able to drain your butter, wash as you would normally, work the water droplets out, salt and shape. If you chill it a long time, it may grow too firm for the churn to work it, and you may have to wash the butter by hand. No matter; butter it still is, and no one meeting it on the street would ever know it had a checkered past.
At other times, especially in winter, your problem will be that the butter doesn’t come at all; your cream will pass through the first stages, of whipped cream and runny, overwhipped cream, but at the stage where it should form small grains which will rapidly gather into large lumps, the process just stops. Beat the cream as you might, the butterfat in your cream simply will not gather.
We have no degrees in lacto-chemistry, but we speculate that in these cases the cream has not yet cultured enough to achieve the pH necessary for the tiny globules of butterfat to adhere to one another. Our speculation is supported by experience, which tells us that we can usually remedy the situation either by giving the cream another hour or so on the counter and then trying again, or, better still, adding a few ounces of mesophilic starter, otherwise known as cultured buttermilk, waiting an hour or so, and churning again. Most of the time, the process will then go on as intended, and you’ll have your butter. Continue as indicated.
On the other hand, there are times when – again we speculate – unfavorable bacteria have gotten the lead on you, and before your mesophyllic culture can acidify the cream adequately, your cream has spoiled. It will smell cheesey or ugly, look foamy, and is fit only to be fed to the pigs. So what. Tomorrow there will be as much cream again, and the pigs will be a little bit fatter.
We just love pigs.