How to Make Raw Butter and Buttermilk

Butter making is a labor of love, but once you learn to make it yourself, you will be amazed by the thick, creamy texture and lovely fresh taste of raw, homemade butter.

| July 2011 Web

A Householder's Guide to the Universe book cover

"A Householder's Guide to the Universe" takes up the banner of progressive homemaking and urban farming as a way to confront the political, social and environmental issues facing our world today.

The following is an excerpt from The Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest (Tin House Books, 2010). 

As you may know, raw cream butter, whether sweet or cultured, is completely unavailable in the United States and very rare even in Europe these days. Once you learn to make it yourself, you will be amazed by its thick, creamy texture and lovely fresh taste. This is butter as it was meant to be. But be advised, it will take a little doing. Butter making is a labor of love. I don’t mind, although I don’t do it every week—only when I have more cream on hand than I need for everyday cooking.

Making butter from raw milk starts with skimming off the cream. Raw milk benefits from sitting at least twenty-four hours in the fridge to let gravity separate the cream from the milk. The longer it sits, the more it separates, but I would not go beyond two or three days.

In preparation for the skimming, boil a quart jar, a lid, and a small ladle to make sure they are sterile. Use the ladle to skim the cream off two half-gallon bottles of milk. (I receive mine in wide-mouth half-gallon jars, which makes this task very easy. If you get yours in narrowmouth jars or plastic jugs, pour the milk into a wide-mouth vessel before separating.) Depending on the season, I get anywhere from a pint to a pint and a half of cream from a half gallon of raw milk. Ladle the cream into the boiled jar and add to each pint of cream a tablespoon of storebought “cultured” buttermilk. Make sure the buttermilk has not reached its sell-by date; you want the culture in it to be very active. Cream that is slightly acidified comes together as butter easier than fresh sweet cream.

You want your cream to be at room temperature for the fermentation process. Old-school butter makers used to just let their cream sit overnight at room temperature to allow it to culture naturally (raw milk will sour or clabber naturally and quickly). When they did that, the cream would not only ferment but also reach room temperature. To be safe, instead of letting the and ferment, I take the chill off the cream by pouring it directly into the bottle, which is still a little warm from the boiling, and stir in buttermilk for a quicker fermentation time (four to six hours).

To assist in the culturing, I put the cream in an insulated cooler that has enough warm, seventy-five degree water in it to cover half of the bottle. If it is warm enough in the house, I let the mixture sit out. At this point, the entire process has taken me only five minutes. That’s the fast part.

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