Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Make Butter

"You make butter?", people ask me, flabberghasted.  I know that in their minds, they are envisioning me laboring over a butter churn for hours (wearing a Little House on the Prairie type dress, with my hair in braids).  Well, I'll let you in on the secret:  making butter is ridiculously easy.  And fun.  I first learned how to make butter when I attended a Cheese Making Class offered by Grassfields Cheese in Coopersville, MI (check them out - I love their reason for farming.  They are wonderful models of animal and land stewardship).

All you need to make butter is one ingredient:  cream.  If you are buying cream from the store, I would recommend buying organic, if possible.  The toxic chemicals in commercial animal feeds build up in the highest concentrations in the fat of animals, and since cream is fat, you want to make sure you're buying the best cream you can find .  If you live in West Michigan, you can find Hilhof Dairy products at some health and specialty stores -they are certified organic and the cows are grass-fed.  In Byron Center, where I live, you can find Hilhof Dairy cream at Byron Center Meats. 

We purchase our milk from a small farm nearby and since the milk is non-homogenized, the cream rises to the top after sitting in the fridge for about 24 hours.  After the cream rises, I skim the cream off the top using a ladle and save the cream in pint size jars.  When I have about two cups of cream, I'm ready to make butter. 

Here is the secret to make butter the easy way:  A blender.  This baby will do all of the work for you.  About 30 minutes before you make the butter, set the cream on the counter to warm up.  Room temperature cream will work better than chilled.  If you forget this step, it's not a big deal, but it will be easier with warmer cream.  Pour your cream into the blender.  Make sure you don't fill it more than halfway.  I usually put in about 2 cups of cream.

Next, you turn on the blender to a medium speed.  And here's the best part - you can walk away and just leave it running for the next few minutes while you do something else.  Listen to the blender - you will hear the noise level change as the cream turns into whipped cream and then finally butter.

After about 2-3 minutes, I stopped the blender to check the progress.  You can see that it's still at the whipped cream stage.  Sometimes at this stage the cream gets a little thick and I need to carefully stick a spoon in the top to stir it and get it moving again.

Turn the blender on again and let it run until you hear a "sloshing" noise.  This means your cream "broke" and seperated into butter and buttermilk.  Ta-da!  You did it!  This whole process in the blender should take 5-8 minutes.

You are left with a blender full of butter floating around in buttermilk.  You can discard the buttermilk if desired, but I like to save it and use it for baking - it's great in pancakes (like these cornmeal pancakes ), buttermilk biscuits, cornbread, etc.  To save the buttermilk, I place a fine mesh sieve over a jar or bowl and pour out the contents of the blender.  Gently squish the butter into the sieve to remove as much buttermilk as possible. 

Now for the fun part - the butter needs to be washed to remove all the traces of buttermilk.  To do that, wash your hands first and then fill a bowl with ice cold water (sometimes I do add ice cubes if it's hot in the kitchen).  Squash the butter between your hands or against the side of the bowl.  You will need to change the rinse water several times.  Keep washing and rinsing the butter until you see no trace of white liquid when you squeeze the butter. 

If you prefer salted butter (as I do), now is the time to add the salt.  I sprinkle about 1/4 tsp of salt on the butter and quickly knead the salt into the butter (the heat of your hands can make the butter melt, so do it fast!).    You could also make flavored butter at this time - add a little minced garlic and parsley and you've got a great garlicky bread topping, or whatever your little heart desires. 

Now the butter is ready!  You can use it immediately or store it in the freezer. If you are feeling super artsy-fartsy, you can buy those little candy/lollipop molds at the craft store and press the butter into the molds.  Pop them in the freezer and now you have adorable little pats of butter in the shape of a heart, flower, etc.  Embrace your inner Martha.  Kids eat this stuff up (literally).

 I usually roll the butter into a log shape and wrap it in a piece of parchment paper.  The neat little package can be dated and then popped into a freezer bag in the freezer for later use.  It's helpful to also weigh the butter before storing it.  From the 2 cups of cream I used, I got about a 1/2 pound of butter and nearly 2 cups of buttermilk. 

There.  That wasn't so hard, was it?  Sorry Ma Ingalls... churns are so out of fashion.


  1. This is exciting! I can't wait to try it!


  2. Hi Lori, I was wondering if you have any idea how long the butter will last if you go through the process of washing it? Would it depends on the expiry date of the heavy cream or storage conditions or anything else? Thanks for your help!

  3. Thursday: I'm no food safety expert, but I would say the butter would be fine for 3 months in the freezer and maybe 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Sometimes I leave it on the counter so it's easier to spread, but only if I'm going to use it up in a day or two. Make sure you wash the butter really, really well! Any buttermilk left behind will make the butter have an off taste, especially if you let it sit out at room temperature. If I discover too late that I did a poor job of rinsing, I just make sure I keep the butter in the fridge and use it up in the next day or so... which is not a problem around here, because we go through a lot of butter! Hope this helps!