Weston A Price writes to his nieces and nephews (quoted in Nourishing Traditions, paraphrased here) that when possible, folks should save spring butter (from cows on fast-growing green grass in May and June) to eat in the winter to benefit from the high Vitamin A and D content. I’ve taken this to heart and have a couple pounds of spring butter in my freezer, waiting for the frosty Michigan winter.
I’ve been freezing my skimmed cream and making butter a gallon at a time lately (about once a month), and I also got a buttermilk starter from a friend, so I’ve been able to make true cultured butter, increasing the health benefits of my homemade butter even further. (See my how-to post first if you don’t know the basics.)
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Here is what I’ve been learning:
To make cultured butter, add ¼ cup cultured buttermilk per quart of cream. Set it out on the counter overnight (20-24 hours, according to Nourishing Traditions) until thick. This is now called crème fraiche (pronounced “crem fresh”) and can be used in place of sour cream. It should look like this:
The best thing I can think of to compare the consistency to is Marshmallow Crème, but if you’re a real foodie you’ve probably never seen that abomination!
Homemade sour cream: In the winter, if your house is 65 degrees or below, as you whip the crème fraiche you can stop at the “whipped cream” phase with cultured cream, and your crème fraiche has just the consistency and taste of sour cream. Seriously yummy! Be careful though – mine still only lasted just over a week in the fridge before going completely nasty.
Warm weather butter making: In warmer weather (my house was 76 degrees with A/C on) and if your cultured cream is at room temperature (if you make butter right after it has cultured on the counter), you won’t really hit the whipped cream phase. In fact, the butter sort of suspends in the buttermilk in a different way than in cooler weather, like this:
It is so soft it almost acts like whipped cream, so be careful. It’s still butter! I didn’t think my butter had separated at first and even gave up and packaged it all as “sour cream”. It hardened in the fridge, though, so I deemed it butter. 🙂 If you want the sour cream phase, use colder cream, but the process as a whole will take longer.
UPDATE: My friend claims that the longer you leave the blender running, the better it separates! She hasn’t done it with cultured buttermilk, but I think she’s onto something because my last batch was easier to separate, and I got distracted and left it running longer than usual. My apologies to those of you who believed me when I said you could overmix and the butter would churn back into the buttermilk!
You need to use gentle hands to squeeze the buttermilk out and really cold water to rinse. Especially with the thickness of cultured buttermilk I would only use my hands here. (Although I just read Food Renegade’s blender method of rinsing, and I’m intrigued. That sounds like a lot less work!) Anything else would take too long! Just scrape out the strainer with your fingers. The butter seems almost like sour cream at this point, but it will still solidify nicely in the fridge.
Added bonus: the butter is really easy to measure in ½ cup portions!
Leftover buttermilk: When using cultured cream, the buttermilk is much thicker and whiter, more like a flour and water mixture. This makes a difference when you’re pouring through the strainer, (especially in warm weather, see above) because it tends to get clogged up easier. I found I could separate the butter by pouring a little bit of the mixture at a time into my strainer, then stirring it (like I meant it!) with a spoon.
This will force the buttermilk through the holes and let the butter stay in the strainer. I also double strained it, pouring the buttermilk back through my strainer one last time after I got most of the butter out. This got me an extra teaspoon or two; it’s up to you if that’s worth the work.
How to use buttermilk: You should be able to use the cultured buttermilk leftover from this butter making to culture your next batch of cream. You can use buttermilk from butter in recipes calling for “buttermilk”, but realize that this byproduct of butter making will be extremely low in fat, whereas most “buttermilk” recipes are assuming whole fats. I have used the buttermilk byproduct for biscuits and pancakes, as well as for dipping chicken pieces for chicken nuggets, in place of the egg. You’ll have a lot of it! I would recommend freezing the buttermilk in one-cup portions or so, because it goes terribly sour (musty, almost) in about a week.
A fun discovery: I am used to getting 1/3 cup of butter and 2/3 cups of buttermilk from each cup of cream, but with May/June cultured cream, I got more of a one-to-one ratio! I don’t know if that’s the result of better cream (fresh spring grass), or because my cultured cream had totally separated (again) into cream and milk, and the top half was 100% cream. I must usually get some milk mixed in when I skim, increasing the amount of buttermilk left over.
I found one more trick to get the buttermilk squeezed out of the butter, especially when it’s so soft you can’t really squeeze with your hands: Roll a ½ cup in waxed paper for storage, and gently squeeze at the point, tilting the open end of the waxed paper roll toward the sink and shaking the buttermilk out.
And last but not least, this is what might happen at your house if you happen to have a busy one-year-old and are too lazy to finish your butter-making at night when she’s asleep and you find yourself with your hands full of greasy butter and unable to keep said one-year-old in check:
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