I’ve made butter exactly twice in my life: once, when I was probably six or seven years old and was handed a tightly sealed baby food jar containing a few tablespoons of cream and told to shake, shake, shake like my life depended on it. By doing this, I was supposedly duplicating the process done for a hundred years by pioneering children – an unlikely but quaint scenario. And this time, the second time, on a regular Oregon Thursday night when, again, I shook a jar, less like my life depended on it and more because of an obsessive curiosity, chortling while the dog bemusedly (and I mean that in the traditional sense) looked on and the cats ran away like their lives depended on it…
It’s bound to sound clichéd, but there’s a little bit of magic in making butter from cream, too. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I just kept shaking, figuring it would sort itself out. And it did. The cream turned to whipped cream and stopped making any sound at all. I kept shaking. The sides of the jar suddenly allowed a glimpse of what was going on inside and I watched the whipped cream become curdled. I kept shaking. Then, in just a few seconds, the tiny tick, tonk, tick sound of the buttermilk separating from the fat could be heard. I kept shaking. Watery sloshing sounds began and I kept shaking for a few more minutes just to be sure. By the time I was done, probably seven minutes of shaking later, I had a pretty, sunny ball of butter resting in about a cup of buttermilk. Washing (removing the milk) the butter took longer, but after about forty-five minutes from start to finish I had slightly more than one cup of butter out of three cups of cream. I didn’t season the butter in any way, and I also didn’t let the cream ‘culture.’ I’ll experiment more in the future but this recipe is just for unsalted, sweet cream butter.
A note about making butter from raw cream: you don’t have to have raw cream at all, but, from what I’ve read, it’s easier to make butter if the cream is less processed and not ultra-high pasteurized. I can’t speak to this as I haven’t tried. I buy raw milk and cream from the Bennett family in Willamina, Oregon, and the milk from their Jersey cow seems to have a high fat content, making wonderfully rich cream and, therefore, wonderful butter. Their daughter kindly skimmed a quart of cream off of raw milk for me, but if you can only get raw milk, letting it sit undisturbed in the fridge for a few days will allow the cream to rise to the top, which you can then skim off yourself. Also, to get the cream to room temp, I took it out of the fridge in the morning and left it out, closed, on the counter while I went to work. I made the butter when I got home that evening.
Raw Cream Buttermakes 1 cup (+/-)
3 cups (700 mL) raw cream, at room temperature
1 half-gallon (2 L) mason jar with a tight-fitting lid
Wooden spoon or spatula
Begin by pouring the room temperature cream into the larger jar. There needs to be plenty of room to allow for the cream to expand, so the jar should not be more than 1/3 full with cream.
After securing the lid, begin shaking the larger jar vigorously, trying to provide the most concussion for the cream against the ends of the jar. The cream will expand with air and you may not hear anything for a few moments – keep shaking! Eventually the cream will begin to solidify and you’ll feel it become more weighty as it moves around in the jar. It only took about three minutes for my cream to reach this stage but I’ve heard that it could take upwards of ten or fifteen. I think having cream with high fat content and at room temperature helped the process along.
The cream will begin to separate from the buttermilk and the liquid inside the jar will become much more fluid. Continue shaking for a few more minutes until you see that the butter is solid and faintly yellow.
Pour the butter and liquid buttermilk into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Transfer the buttermilk into another container and save for later use.
Gather the cheesecloth around the butter and squeeze gently to extract as much liquid as possible, being sure not to squeeze the butter through the cloth. Transfer the butter to a medium bowl and add a few tablespoons of cold water to the bowl. Using the wooden utensil, begin folding and pressing the butter to remove as much of the milk as possible.
When the water becomes cloudy, pour it off and add more clean water while you continue to scrape, press, and fold the butter through the water. This may take several changes of water, but eventually the water will remain clear and the butter will be ‘washed.’
When the water is staying clear, pour it off and work the butter a little more to remove any extra liquid that it has retained. Once no more liquid is being extracted from the butter, you can add salt to taste or any seasoning you’d like. Herbs or citrus zest would be a perfect addition!
Pack the butter into a container and keep refrigerated or frozen. According to what I’ve found online, raw butter will last longer the better ‘washed’ it is and the colder it is kept. Of course, however, use good judgement and don’t consume butter that has an off smell, taste or color.