“Mama Butter Churner”

Tips for making butter, from a farm kitchen

I told Vivian the other day to start calling me “Mama Butter Churner” because pretty much all I’ve done with my free time in the past 6-8 weeks is make butter. She thinks it’s hilarious to call me that, even though we don’t have a churn, and instead use the Cuisinart (less splatter than the mixer and more surface area to touch the “paddle,” aka blade, than the blender — but all three will work).

And lately I’ve learned why making cultured butter makes so much more sense, practically. The digestive and nutritional benefits are real, too.

When I say “make butter,” I’m talking an epic amount of butter. We probably have 50 lbs of butter in the freezer, easily. I’ve started slicing it like cheese and using it commensurately. The cream from this time of year is the brightest because it has the most quantity and quality of nutrition from rapidly growing grasses, forbs, legumes and woody plants that the cows miraculously convert from difficult-to-digest vegetative matter and make them bio-available to us. Although making butter is super simple, I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of months about making it well, which is to say, in a way that goes fast and produces a good end result. This post is borne out of a desire to share a few tips that I’ve learned along the way.

Butter really does make everything better, and vegetables much more digestible. I like to think of foods as a vehicle for eating butter!

Since the cream really has to be at least 55 degrees before churning (otherwise you get a homogenized mess of milk and butter droplets, that you can press out but it takes a lot of patience), 60+ degrees is better, I’ve found that presents a unique challenge. I’ve been using food-grade 5-gal buckets to store the cream. It takes a long time for one of those to warm up at room temp (8+ hours). That would be all fine and good if I could perfectly plan what life would be like in 8 hours from now. But bulls get out, calves get lost in the woods, fireworks and tannerite get blown up at the neighbors (freaking out the guard dogs, causing escapes or entire days spent fixing fencing), and any number of things can precent me from spinning butter when my cream is at a perfect 60 degrees.

The cream comes out of the bulk tank at 40 degrees and then I usually put that 5-gal bucket in the fridge. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong or keep me from churning that butter at 60+ degrees. Right picture shows butter being washed after I’ve pressed milk out.

That’s where the culture comes in, and I stumbled upon the perfect culture and I wanted to share it in case it blessed someone else like it has me. I got it from Homesteader’s Supply, where I got my butter mold. This is not a paid ad. I just really appreciate the craftsmanship that these folks put into their products. My cherry butter mold came with a free sample of butter culture. It’s dreamy stuff!

This is the intermediate step between cream and washing the butter. This is where the milk gets pressed out of the butter. I use a colander with small holes, but not mesh, because that just makes a mess. If butter is spun too cold, this part is very challenging and takes a lot of patience and time. If the cream is room temperature, this part happens in seconds. Butter culture keeps the end product from souring.

When it’s 11p at night and I don’t have the courage to start making butter, I just add the tiniest pinch of culture and it prevents the cream from souring and instead makes a delicious cultured butter. From now on, I’m just going to start adding the culture when I take the cream out of the fridge as an insurance policy. This culture tastes so good that I don’t mind all of the butter being cultured and not “sweet cream.” In fact, I think it tastes better than sweet cream.

It’s not lost on me that having this much cream to make butter with is a situation that most people dream of, and it’s really not possible without having not just one but several cows, or a good source of non-homogenized cream. There is a sweetness to this process for me, as it’s been almost 13 years in the making. There was a time that I dreamed of just one gallon of milk from my own cow without her kicking over the bucket, getting mastitis or any number of other challenges. Believe me, I get where you are in this journey, even if you don’t have a cow at all and just dream of really good food and it seems impossible to get there. The best advice I have is to just start where you can, and be faithful in small things.

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. Luke 16:10

May your butter be golden, your children’s cheeks rosy and your land be blessed with your good stewardship. Happy churning!

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