In the early 70s I was a weaver and a member of the Philadelphia Guild of Hand Weavers. I didn’t just want to weave. I wanted to card my own wool, spin it into my own yarn and make my own dyes. I even had fantasies of raising my own sheep. Well, I’m the same way with cooking. Anjuli and I always want to get back to the basics. We make our own ghee. We love it. Recently Anjuli said, “wouldn’t it be great if we made our own butter so that we know what kind we’re using for our ghee?”
That, of course, played around in my mind. I am in Iowa now, Fairfield to be exact. It’s the home of Maharishi University of Management, a small university of consciousness-based education founded about 40 years ago by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Austin did his bachelors and masters here and we have a sweet little cottage in the community that surrounds the campus.
Maharishi’s primary goal was to bring meditation to the West. He also helped to popularize Ayurveda, the holistic system of health and wellness. The university has a large farming operation which supplies all the students with Organic food, and there are a number of sustainable programs and green buildings on campus. We come here for peace and meditation and this unique community amidst these flat cornfields of Iowa. Suffice to say, this is a good place to look for milk!
When you’re going the extra mile to produce butter, it’s important to use clean, flavorful milk that is free of rBST, antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals. If you start with good milk, the sky is the limit. From luscious whole, pasteurized unhomogenized milk I can easily make butter, ghee, cream cheese, creme fraiche, yogurt, or kefir. Add in some sugar and I can convert these fats and proteins into an array of delicious Indian sweets; add a few yolks to that and I have emulsions, sauces, and ice creams.
Well here in Fairfield there is a dairy that supplies milk for the university, local grocery stores and restaurants called Radiance Dairy. Owned and operated by Frances Thicke and his wife Susan, this small dairy produces the best milk products I have personally ever tasted or seen. Frances and Susan play music for their cows. Each of the 65 Jerseys has names like Delila or Lolita. These farmers respect their cows, and it shows. It shows in the quality of the milk and the pride felt in the local community. If loves makes a difference, that is the reason these cows produce such good milk.
This was my second visit to Radiance Dairy. I went about 7 years ago when Austin first started going to MUM. That first time I saw the cows out to pasture on these deep, rolling hills smelling of summertime. This time I came for the milking. Before each cow was hooked up, they carefully washed each teat with hydrogen peroxide. While they milked they gave the cows a supplemental feeding of organic soy and barley. After the cows were finished, they received a little affectionate pat on the rump to let them know they were free to go back to the barnyard. You know that wonderful feeling you get when you see people doing this right? That’s the feeling I got visiting Radiance Dairy.
If I was going to make my own butter, what better milk than from Radiance Dairy? I had a blast making this butter. I love exploring in my kitchen. It energizes me to make foods I can cherish daily from the best and simplest ingredients I can find.
Making butter is a very simple process. You take whole milk or cream, agitate it until the butterfat and proteins begin to clump together and the liquid whey separates. You strain the whey and rinse the butter and pound it into a manageable shape. And voila! But from those easy steps, there are many different opinions on how best and most flavorfully to approach butter making.
Back when dairy farms were small in the US, cream would be gathered over a few days and allowed to sit and ferment on the counter top before churning it, with wooden paddles, into butter. This produced a “cultured butter,” or one where the milk has been allowed to ferment briefly with friendly bacteria. Culturing the cream naturally preserved the butterfat. Another way of preserving butter was to add salt after the butter curds had formed. Now that we have refrigeration, these distinctions are more a matter of taste than anything else. In the supermarket today you’ll find mostly “sweet cream butter,” which means the cream is fresh, not cultured.
In home kitchens all over India, even today, the day’s yield of milk is heated to a boil, then turned into yogurt by adding a few spoonfuls saved from the previous day. From there it is churned into butter, the whey is separated, and the resulting butter is cooked until the water evaporates and the milk solids sink and brown. The resulting rich, caramel, sunlight-yellow liquid is ghee.
For my butter, I wanted to keep it simple and also make it similarly to how they do in India. I started with heavy cream (around 36% butterfat, see breakdown of cream butterfat), so I would have a concentrated amount of butterfat and therefore produce more butter. I took two quarts of Radiance Dairy’s thick, thick cream and added some of their yogurt to cream yogurt. Then I put the yogurt in my Kitchen Aid Mixer and split it into butter and buttermilk. It was fantastic. The buttermilk was right out of my childhood; nothing like the buttermilk you can buy in the supermarket, which is just thickened skim milk. It was creamy white with a very clean taste and silky texture. True buttermilk has no fat in it. The fat is all in the butter. Yum.
Two quarts of Radiance Dairy Cream made 4 cups of buttermilk and 3 1/2 cups of golden butter. I refrigerated the buttermilk, and cooked the butter down to ghee. The ghee was so golden and sweet it took our breath away. To make ghee you can look at Anjuli’s excellent blog post. For those crazy, adventuresome people who would like to try, I have reproduced how I made the butter. It will take you longer to read this post than to make butter, so don’t be intimidated. I’ve just included enough information to make sure you first time is a success!
Notes on cream: The cream you choose will determine much of the outcome of both taste and texture. A richer diet of grass vs. hay or feed will produce a yellower butter (due to the carotene). The flavor is also affected by the type of cows, how they’re fed, where they live, and what season it is. Culturing your butter will also give it a tangier flavor and obviously salting your butter will affect its taste. So seek out those excellent local farmers nearby and experiment!
Homemade cultured butter
Heavy cream (if using heavy cream, roughly 35-38% butterfat; from my 2 quarts I had over 3 cups of butter)
Room temperature yogurt (ratio 1:16 of cream to yogurt; so for my 2 quarts of cream, I used 1/2 cup yogurt)
Make the yogurt. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat the cream gently on low to 110F, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Pour the cream into a large bowl. Add the yogurt and stir to combine. Place a plate on the bowl and put it in a cold oven with the oven light on, overnight. Check the yogurt in the morning to see if it is yogurt. If it is not quite done, give it a little more time but not more than 10 hours altogether. Because you started with cream, the texture of the yogurt will be a little different than if you had made it with milk, but it will still have that somewhat jelled look of yogurt.
Note on cultured vs. sweet cream butter: Cultured butter has a tangier taste and it contains live, good bacteria that helps to preserve the butter. Butter was originally made from yogurt in times without refrigeration. If you want to try an uncultured butter, in the US called sweet cream butter, skip this step, eliminate the yogurt, and go on to making your butter!
Make the butter in a mixer. Put the cream in the bowl of a mixer and turn it to the highest setting, as if you were whipping cream. Let it go for about 10 minutes or until it splits. What you have now is butter and buttermilk, even though it may not look like it.
Make butter in a jar. If you’re not working with a large amount, you can always place the cream in a jar and shake it up. For a pint this takes about 5-10 minutes of shaking. Not vigorous, just jostling the cream back and forth. If you shake it up and down, make sure to also jostle it around in a circle every so often. You’ll notice the cream gets thicker, then starts to separate, and finally turns into a thick mass with a watery substance splashing around in there. Those are the curds of butter!
Strain the butter. Put a large strainer over a large bowl and pour the butter/buttermilk into the strainer. Leave it for a few minutes to strain. What you are left with in the strainer is butter. What you have in the bowl is buttermilk. Store the buttermilk in the fridge. Make sure you try some, although I personally did enjoy it more when it was cool.
Rinse the butter. Put the butter back in your mixer or jar and the equivalent of half your whey in water. Mix for 10 seconds, then strain this watery liquid down the drain. Return the butter to the jar or mixer and repeat 3 or 4 times until the liquid runs clear. This will eliminate any of the excess whey and help keep your butter from going rancid.
Note: If you choose to salt your butter, you can do so at this time. We don’t salt ours so I can’t give you recommendations on quantity.
Prepare the butter to keep. (For ghee-goers, skip this step.) Place the butter on a work surface or atop wax paper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold the butter back and forth, kind of like kneading, until it’s in the shape you want. Or, you can pack it into a vessel to store for later. This steps makes a smooth texture and also removes any excess moisture.
Tip: If you find the butter is too soft to work with, you can stick it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before handling.
Make ghee. Now you are ready to make the world’s best ghee. If you are not familiar with the process of making ghee, check out Anjuli’s blog post on ghee.
Note: Some of the creams we have experimented with were very frothy in the pan, all the way up until the milk solids sunk to the bottom and began to brown. If you find this happens to you, don’t panic. It’s all good!