November 29, 2007

Solid Gold; or, The Case for Home Buttermaking

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes topped with a generous pat of homemade butter.

Okay, dear readers, here’s the deal: I and a dozen of my (geographically) closest friends have been enjoying the tastiest, most luxurious, homemade butter for a whole week, and I haven’t let you in on it because my draft postings were too technical-sounding and boring. But I’m still so excited about it that I’m writing in run-on sentences, and you just have to try it yourselves! So, here are a few notes to share my enthusiasm and advice, and when you decide to try your hand at buttermaking, consult the sources below for detailed instructions, and get to churning!

I procured organic, gently-pasteurized cream from Butterworks Farm of Vermont. If you get your cream at the grocery store, look for heavy cream that has not been ultra-pasteurized. This process of quickly heating the cream or milk to 191 degrees lengthens its shelf life, but damages its flavor and composition. Therefore, you might be better off with cream from your local mega-dairy (e.g. Hood’s, Dean’s) than from brands like Organic Valley and Horizon. (It goes without saying that the best scenario is to purchase cream from a local farm.)

Allow your cream to warm to room temperature before churning. I used my stand mixer to perform the churning, but don’t tell the folks at KitchenAid or they’ll bring an $80 “butter churning attachment” to the market. I started whipping the cream with the whisk, but switched it for the paddle after twenty minutes; I think that the whisk was breaking up the butterfat globules. When the butterfat and buttermilk separated about five minutes later, I was glad that I’d followed David Patterson’s advice to cover the top of the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, thus avoiding a buttermilk shower.

I dumped the mixture into a colander set in a bowl to collect the buttermilk, which I refrigerated and later used to make blueberry pancakes, ranch dressing, and mashed potatoes (all fantastically delicious, by the way). Next, I kneaded the buttermilk out of the butter in a bowl of cool water, changing the water a few times until it was no longer cloudy. Kneading is important because any residual buttermilk will cause the butter to spoil, even in the refrigerator.

Working the golden-hued butter by hand, I noticed its remarkable plasticity. At room temperature, the finished butter did not acquire the moist clamminess of stick butter, but remained firm and consistent. Its flavor is sweet and herbaceous, its texture tight and unctuous. I tasted the melted butter for the pancake batter, and its richness reminded me of fresh egg yolks. I am going tackle cultured butter next, and am planning to make butter caramels for Christmas gifts.

Well, are you going to try it? It requires only a half-hour of time and one ingredient (two, if you want salted butter). You will optimize the most important qualities of good butter: freshness and high fat content. Think of all of the wonderful things you could do with fabulous buttermilk and butter (if you don’t gobble up the latter on a loaf of fresh bread). One caveat: everyone who tastes your butter will be clamoring for more. Bon courage!


"Curd Mentality," by David Patterson, The New York Times, July 1, 2007

"Buttermaking," by Holly Gates,

Home Cheese Making, by Ricki Carroll, New England Cheesemaking Supply

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