Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cultured Butter


Back in the 1930's when my mother was a baby, my maternal grandparents briefly owned a creamery in Denver. They made butter, ice cream--all the usual suspects for a creamery. At some point, they gave it up to move to Los Angeles, where my Poppa returned to his trade as a milliner. Given that women stopped wearing hats whenever they went out, he moved on from that, too. But that's another story.

Now you'd think with a creamery background in my family and a grandmother who loved to teach me how to cook, I'd have been raised learning how to make butter and other dairy products. But no. Clearly, she left that part of her history firmly in Denver. Not only did it never really enter into the family lore, until fairly recently it had never occurred to me to make my own. But then I fell hard for Brittany butter, sweet and just slightly crunchy from sea salt. I realized that commodity butter wasn't going to cut it for me any more.

A few months ago I poked around and found instructions for butter making--really easy ones (but not involving shaking a jar). I tried it and found I loved the results.

Of course, once you start... and so I had to try making cultured butter. Cultured butter has a tangy, more layered taste than regular butter. And it really comes alive when you take the time to culture it yourself. All that involves is adding the culture to the cream in a bowl and letting it sit at room temperature for from eight to 24 hours, covered. You can purchase the culture from cheese-making stores or you can simply add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt, which is what I did.

Now where regular butter takes little effort and a very short time to make, cultured butter requires little effort but many hours of waiting. Kind of like making bread, but without the kneading. But if you're not in a hurry, this is makes an über version of butter that you'll want to try.

As with all recipes with limited ingredients, the few used for making cultured butter have to be really really good. So, be sure to use organic unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream, high quality yogurt, and, if you're going to add salt, very good flaky sea salt.

To start you'll mix together the cream and yogurt in a bowl, cover the bowl with a towel and leave it to sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Ideally room temperature is in the 70s. It should get thick like sour cream and a little bubbly. It should smell clean. If it smells funky, toss it and try again.


Once it reaches the right consistency, refrigerate it for an hour. You can leave it in longer if you don't have time to make it immediately. I left mine in the fridge overnight, then took it out the next morning and left it for an hour to come back to room temperature before making the butter.

Now the way I make it is in the blender. And what I've learned by using my Vitamix is that you have to rein in your impulse to whip the cream on high. Instead, don't even move the dial from the lowest speed. It's fast enough to do the job of spurring the cream and yogurt mixture from thick to chunky.


Once you have some good sized chunks, stop. Let the mixture rest and separate. The liquid you get is buttermilk and it's delicious. Don't toss it but do drain it into a container and save it for baking muffins or making buttermilk dressing or however you like to use buttermilk.


Now you're going to wash the butter to remove any remaining remnants of buttermilk since that will make it spoil faster. There are different ways to do it. You can squeeze it by hand. You could pull out the chunks of butter, place them in cheesecloth in a bowl and pour ice water over them and press the butter into the ice water so that the water turns cloudy--and repeat this several times until the water is clear. Or you can make life easier for yourself with a trick I learned from The Kitchn--add cold water to the butter chunks in the blender bowl and pulse a few times. Let the mixture sit until the water separates from the butter. It'll be cloudy. Pour it out, being sure to use a slotted spoon or spatula to keep the butter in the bowl. Repeat a couple more times until the water is mostly clear. Move around those chunks at the bottom near the blades where water accumulates so you can drain it all out.

Now if you want to salt your butter, this is the time. Add just a scant quarter teaspoon of your sea salt to the blender bowl with the butter and pulse a few times to mix it in. Taste and make sure you have enough. If not, add just a bit more. Pulse again.

That's it. Scoop the butter into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Alternately, you can shape it into a log, using plastic wrap and refrigerate it. It should be good for about three weeks in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. If you want to make regular butter, there's no waiting, simply pour a pint of the heavy cream into the blender bowl and follow the instructions above.

Cultured Butter
Adapted from The Kitchn
(printable recipe)

1 pint organic, unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1. Whisk together the cream and yogurt in a bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let sit on the counter for 12 hours. Check to see if the mixture has thickened to a sour cream-like consistency and has formed bubbles on the top. If so, it's ready. If not, give it some more time. When it's ready, place it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
2. Bring the mixture to room temperature for an hour. This helps it separate into pieces faster. Then place in the bowl of a blender. At low speed, blend the cream-yogurt mixture for a minute or two until it it forms into chunks. That's your butter.
3. Let the butter chunks separate from the liquid, which is buttermilk. At that point, pour off the buttermilk for another use.
4. Add enough cold water to the butter in the blender bowl just to cover. Now you're washing the butter. Pulse three times. The water will be cloudy. Pour it off. Repeat two or more times until the water is relatively clear. Make sure you remove all the water.
5. Add salt now if you want. Pulse again a few times to make sure it's well mixed. Taste to see if you need to add more salt.
6. Scoop out the butter and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate--or shape it into a log using plastic wrap and refrigerate. It should be good for a few weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months.






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