'I think of making butter as stirring sunlight through the cream, and as a child I always sat on the sunniest corner of the verandah to make it. As I turned the wooden paddle, always in the one direction, the cream thickened, then deepened in colour. It thickened more and began to sweat, then suddenly gushed its buttermilk. The butter had to be washed three times to clean all the buttermilk out of it, otherwise the butter did not keep well. Then we salted it with much more salt than we would use today.' - Eric Rolls AM, A Celebration of Food and Wine, UQP, 1997.
Historian, author and poet, Eric Rolls, sums up the making of butter so beautifully in a chapter of A Celebration of Food and Wine titled 'of flesh'. He says that 'From any cows, Australian commercial butter from the big companies scarcely deserves the name butter' and notes that 'the only way to get supreme butter and cream is to milk your own cow.'
Few of us can enjoy what I see as the 'luxury' of having a milk cow in the back garden, methinks, and nor do we all have access to the very best cream, which Rolls says is produced by Guernseys and Australian Illawarra Shorthorns. That said, good quality, pure cream can be found at farmers markets across Australia. For example, Country Valley in Picton, NSW produces an award-winning classic cream. I'm sure you will find a similar producer in your neck of the woods.
So, now you have the cream, let's look at making butter, and its side product, buttermilk. At the cheese making workshop that Peter and I were invited to attend last year, artisan cheese maker, Susan Meagher showed us that making butter at home was quick and simple. Indeed, it's so easy, I don't understand why we aren't all making our own butter!
You'll need some cheesecloth or muslin, a mesh strainer, a spatula, a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, an extra bowl, and a jar for the buttermilk. All of these must be meticulously clean.
As home made butter does not keep more than about a week, I make it in small quantities. It can be frozen if need be and will last for a month stored in an airtight container in the freezer compartment. Scroll down for links to links to my recipes that use buttermilk.
500mls pure cream
Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer and with the balloon whisk attachment, beat the cream on a medium speed. As the machine whips the cream, you'll notice that it starts to thicken. Soon, the whipped cream forms stiff clumps on the whisk and you'll see the buttermilk in the bottom of the bowl. This can take anywhere from around ten to fifteen minutes, so please be patient.
Line a mesh strainer with a square of muslin or cheesecloth and place it over another bowl. Pour the buttermilk into the strainer and then transfer it to a clean jar. Store the buttermilk in the sealed jar in the refrigerator.
With a spatula, remove the blobs of butter from the balloon whisk and place them into the muslin over the strainer. Now, rinse the entire clump of butter under cold running water until the water is clear.
Bring the ends of the muslin together and squeeze out as much excess water from the butter as you can. With the muslin wrapped around it, work the butter into a solid ball.
And that's it. With this quantity, you will be able to make 250g of butter and 250mls of buttermilk.
Wrap the butter in parchment and store in an airtight container in the fridge, making sure you use it within a week. Otherwise, you can cut it into portions, wrap it in parchment and freeze it for about a month. You can also make flavoursome herb butters, such as basil butter (my favourite!), tarragon, parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary or dill, for instance.
Notes: Salted butter will keep longer than unsalted butter. To make salted butter, you can use a light brine solution to rinse the butter. Try it with some smoked sea salt!
To make cultured butter, add a teaspoon of yoghurt to the half litre of pure cream. For a more flavoursome cultured butter, combine the cream and the yoghurt in a covered bowl and refrigerate the mixture overnight. Then churn as above.
Rinse the clump of butter under cold running water, until the water runs clear.
Note: The buttermilk (pictured below) is refreshing and can be enjoyed as a chilled drink, but also makes for light-as-a-feather scones, as well as luscious hotcakes, pikelets, muffins and baked goods.
Wrap the home made butter in parchment and store in an airtight container. Use within a week of making it.
Use the buttermilk to make fluffy pancakes or pikelets, which can cooked in melted home made butter.
Tell me dear readers and fellow cooks, have you ever made your own butter? Perhaps, like Eric Rolls, you churned it by hand on a farm? Do please share your experiences. I love hearing from you! xox
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.