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ingredients and techniques

Building A Better Pantry: Part 1--Dairy

meg's picture


One of the exciting new things we're starting here at the Joy Kitchen is our "Building A Better Pantry" blog series. This promises to be a very long and informative series, and we think you'll enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy talking about it.

The premise behind the series is that you can do things for yourself. Really. You can make, at home, with minimal equipment, many of the things that any supermarket is more than happy to charge you way too much for.

Here's a hint: when you buy garam masala in a pretty little bottle, you're paying for the bottle. And who knows how fresh it is anyway?

Our first several installments will focus on dairy products. Now, not all the things I'm going to talk about are more economical to make yourself than to buy. For instance, if your budget is stretched, you might want to just buy mozzarella at the store rather than make it. However, I think you'll find making mozzarella to be fascinating and enjoyable, and the end product will be really, really delicious.

Today, I'm going to rock your world. The first photo at top is unhomogenized milk. I'll let you wrap your head around that for a second.

Before you buy regular old milk at the grocery store, somewhere, a cow is milked mechanically, the milk is filtered and cooled, pasteurized, and centrifuged to separate the cream. For whole and low fat milk, some cream is added back into the milk to reach a specified butterfat percentage by weight (3.25% for whole milk, 0.5% for low-fat, and 1-2% for reduced-fat). Essentially, no matter what butterfat percentage your milk originally was, it is now a standardized percentage.

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of raw vs. pasteurized, organic vs. conventional, homogenized vs. unhomogenized. It's a tricky subject and lots of people have lots of opinions about it. However, a disclaimer--I belong to a "cow share."

A cow share is essentially what it sounds like. A bunch of people get together because they all want the same thing--raw, unhomogenized, super-fresh milk. Usually, this group of people relies upon one person to keep the cow, take care of the cow, and milk the cow. Everyone else provides squeaky clean containers to receive milk in, and they pay the person who takes care of the cow. Every week, clean containers are exchanged for containers filled with milk.

The sale of raw milk is illegal in many states. Cow shares (and goat shares for that matter) provide a loophole for people wanting to purchase raw milk. There are many reasons why a person might want raw milk. Many individuals find that while they cannot digest pasteurized milk very easily, raw milk is easier on their stomachs. Others believe that there are enzymes and good bacteria killed by pasteurization that are inherently good for the gut. Others still find the "cooked" taste of pasteurized milk to be off-putting, and the grassy, buttery flavor of raw milk to be irresistible. Finally, raw milk has the added bonus of being unhomogenized, which means is that the cream rises to the top (at least for cow's milk; goat's milk is naturally homogenized).

Some small producers who sell pasteurized milk do not homogenize it, which is really a lovely thing for people who want "real milk" but are scared off by raw milk. Either way, for the following recipe, you'll need heavy cream. You can get heavy cream by skimming it off the top of unhomogenized milk or you can just buy a carton of cream.

I encourage you to try to find unhomogenized milk just for experimentation's sake. In most cases, milk that is not homogenized comes from smaller, more scrupulous farmers, and so the milk is of a higher quality. It's also something that many have never seen or tasted, and it is different. I personally like having more options. Sometimes, I pour the cream off the top and reserve it for another use, sometimes I shake the milk to incorporate the cream, and sometimes I make butter, which is why we're all gathered here today.

Making butter is transformative. There's no other way to put it. You start out with liquid and end up with smooth, rich, spreadable goodness. And it's easy.

There are two ways to go about this. You can use a food processor to make butter or you can go really old-school and use a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The jar method takes a little longer and uses elbow grease, the food processor method uses electricity. Up to you.

1.) If you're using unhomogenized milk, let the milk sit, undisturbed and refrigerated, for a couple days, or until you can see a layer of cream on top. If you're using farm fresh, grass-fed cow's milk, the cream will be noticeably yellow.

2.) Skim the cream off the top or, as I do, simply pour the cream into the food processor or jar. Just use your eagle eye to gauge when the cream is poured off. If you get some milk in the cream, don't worry. No big deal. The good thing about unhomogenized milk is that even though you've poured the cream off, there will still be some left in the milk. Thus, though you technically have "skim" milk at this point, there's enough fat left to make the milk really tasty and have a silky mouthfeel.

3.) Let 1 to 2 cups of cream warm up just slightly. I tend to think that 50 degrees is a good temperature. Too cold or too warm and the process takes longer.

4.) For the food processor method, start processing. You can use the metal blade or the plastic one for this. It took about 11 minutes and 30 seconds for me to reach the "butter" stage with the food processor. What you're looking for is for the cream to turn from a smooth liquid into a slushy looking liquid with yellow bits dispersed throughout (see the third photo above).

5.) For the jar method, secure the lid on the jar and start shaking as hard as you can. This process can take 10 to 20 minutes depending on how hard you shake the jar. You're looking for the same thing as in the food processor method--little yellow chunks of butter suspended in buttermilk. The butter will slosh around in the jar when you're done.

6.) Drain the butter using a fine-mesh sieve. Make sure you have something underneath to catch the buttermilk--you'll want to save that. Transfer the butter to a bowl.

7.) Pour about 1/2 cup very cold water over the butter, and "knead" it using a spoon. Press the butter with the back of the spoon over and over again. The water will turn cloudy. Pour the water out (being careful not to throw the butter out with the wash water), and add more cold water. Knead again. Keep repeating this process until the water remains clear or almost clear. Usually this takes about 5 to 7 changes of water. You'll notice your butter getting smoother and sticking together as you do this. Basically, this process removes most of the buttermilk from the butter solids, giving your final product a longer shelf life and a more concentrated butter flavor.

8.) Pour off the water and blot the butter dry with a paper towel. At this point, you can add some salt or not. I like to add sea salt to taste to my butter. This makes it all the more luxurious. For your first batch of butter, you should just taste it as it is. Take a little bite. Spread some on toast. It's absurdly delicious. If you used fresh cow's milk, your butter will be an almost unbelievably bright yellow. Makes you wonder how they achieve that waxy, nearly white supermarket butter.

You can also make cultured butter by adding one more step. Cultured butter is more nuanced than sweet butter, and authentic cultured butter is very hard to find. Simply combine your cream with about 3 tablespoons store-bought cultured buttermilk (store-bought, cultured buttermilk is not true buttermilk, which is the byproduct from making butter, but more on that later). You can also use plain, cultured yogurt. Let the cream sit at room temperature until it becomes thick and sour-smelling, about 16 to 24 hours. Refrigerate until cold, and proceed with the butter recipe.

And about that buttermilk that you have left over? Drink it or use it in cornbread, biscuits, pancakes, or waffles. It's delicious.


Shantae B.'s picture

How much butter does this make? Is this economical for baking?

meg's picture

A pint of cream makes about 1 cup of butter. This is really not economical for baking. When I make butter at home (and I do this regularly), I use really good cream, and I use the butter where I can really taste the difference--on toast, in eggs, in butter-based sauces, etc. It's nice to have "good butter" for those dishes where it will really make a difference. It's also cool to see how butter is made.

BonnyBard's picture

I've made butter a couple of times before but I never rinsed it, just squeezed it in cheesecloth until the liquid had come out, am curious to try your method now too! I live in Italy, so this may make a big difference, but although we can buy raw milk easily from special vending machines I've never noticed much cream rising to the top. There is some about 1 or 2cm at the top of the bottle, but it's generally a slightly deeper white than the milk, not yellow... I wonder why that is...
I buy cream directly from the farmer which is very, very thick and sticky but the only thing you can make from it is butter or certain cheeses, not whipped cream for example (that's actually how I ended up making butter the first time... attempting to make whipped cream!).

meg's picture

The rinsing process really flushes out any remaining milk in the butter. The less milk left in your butter, the longer its shelf life will be. The milk you talk about getting from vending machines may be homogenized? I don't know--that's just a guess. It could also be skimmed raw milk, meaning that some of the cream has been skimmed off the top. But it sounds like the cream you're getting is very high quality, which probably makes great butter. Thanks for commenting!

Terri's picture

Hi Bonny,

The color of the cream and milk is from the type of cow. Holsteins produce a "whiter" milk and produce twice as much milk than a Jersey or Guernsey. However, even the cream in Holsteins is slightly yellow, but not as bright as Jersey or Guernseys. I currently buy raw milk from a small farm that raise Jerseys. I have raised Holsteins in the past. I make homemade cheeses such as Colby, Cheddar and Parmesan from my milk I buy. I also buy farm fresh milk because I love NON-HOMOGENIZED milk. I love my cream at the top of my milk. :) Hope that helps. :)

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