Friday, May 21, 2010

Dairy Week - Day 1: Butter

A bottle of Dutchmen Dairy creamThis coming week is Dairy Week.

Dairy Week was not established by Alberta Milk, or the Dairy Farmers of Canada. It was established by me, just now, and will be celebrated in my kitchen.

I have a bunch of dairy projects and recipes cluttering the back of my mind, and I've decided to perform some spring cleaning and do them all this week. I have one experiment planned for each of the next eight days. In preparation, I've stocked my fridge with cream, whole milk, and buttermilk from
Dutchmen Dairy of Sicamous, BC.

So, without further ado...

Dairy Week - Day 1: Butter

I'm starting with butter because it's the most common dairy product in my house, and is dead-simple to make, requiring only cream, a container with a good seal, and a bit of salt.

I think as children most of us were taken to historical sites like Fort Edmonton to learn how the settlers made wool and horseshoes and butter. Even so, I'll start at the beginning.

You make butter by agitating cream.

It works like this. The fat in cream is in tiny globs, each covered with a membrane that prevents the fat globs from joining together. When you agitate cream, you break these coverings, releasing the fat globs, which all rush out to join their fatty brethren and form a solid mass of butter.

To commence butter-production, fill your container half way with heavy cream. Add a pinch of salt, secure the lid, and start shaking. You don't have to strain yourself, just use a gentle shake that you can sustain for maybe ten minutes. After a while the cream will thicken: the contents will be noticeably less fluid, and there will be less sloshing. At this point you've simply introduced air into the liquid and made whipped cream:

The thickened cream: keep shaking...
Once whipped cream has formed, it's a little more difficult to keep the cream moving in the jar. Perform a couple minutes of aggressive shaking, which will separate the butterfat and buttermilk:

The butterfat and buttermilk, separate at last.
While the resulting liquid is technically buttermilk, it does not have the tanginess that we usually associate with buttermilk. Unpasteurized cream has bacteria that convert lactose (the main sugar in dairy products) to lactic acid. When making butter with unpasteurized cream, the resulting buttermilk slowly develops a tangy taste as the lactic acid accumulates. Since I am using pasteurized cream, there are no active cultures, and therefore no hope for acidity. My "buttermilk" is actually just skim milk.

(As a quick interjection, these days commercial buttermilk is actually pasteurized milk that has had the above-mentioned bacterial cultures reintroduced and incubated...)

The butterfat that has clumped together must now be worked to remove small pockets of buttermilk that remain within. When making such a small amount of butter, you can just use your hands. Knead the butter. You should see droplets of buttermilk come out.

At this point the butter is usually pressed into a mold to form the familiar bricks. Or in my case, hockey pucks:

The worked butterfat, pressed into a ramekin
My finished product has little to distinguish itself from store-bought butter, besides a slightly richer dairy flavour. It's very good, but the benefits aren't great enough to convince me to start churning cream for my daily supply of butter. (Maybe once I have my own cow...) It's still a good experiment to try once, if only for general knowledge and appreciation of this rich but humble staple.


  1. I am going to do butter and cheese this summer. - all the way - so am thrilled with finding your interest and your posts. I have made the best Creme Fraiche I have ever tasted (see my post) as suggested by a friend in Slow Food. It was her granny's recipe and is DEADLY. So, that and the yogurt are firmly under my belt. I will never buy either, again. I will be doing the butter in my Thermomix. I want to get a really great frommage blanc recipe and understand the difference between this cheese, and others so similar. Then, I want to do a Queso fresco. I have to read more later. Did you use unpasturized milk?
    And... where did you buy your supplies?

  2. Hi Valerie. Good to hear from you.

    Sounds like you have some exciting work ahead of you. My understanding is that fromage blanc is made by introducing specific cultures (sold together as fromage blanc starter) to milk, incubating, then straining until it has a texture similar to cream cheese.

    All the dairy I used through the week was pasteurized. Securing and learning to work with unpasteurized milk is a project for another day.

    All my bacterial cultures and rennet were ordered from Danlac of Airdrie. I know that they sell cultures for cream-style cheeses, which may work for your fromage blanc.

  3. 1. Horray for dairy week !! I wish I could've been at your house then !

    2. I am sorry to hear that the butter wasn't anything special relative to store bought stuff.

    3. I don't think I have ever eaten 'real' butter, where the butter actually tastes like what the cow ate (e.g.) lavender, herbs, grass. That, or I romanticize butter. But one day, I'd like to eat real butter! The book "fat" has a great section on how butter use to be a seriously nutritious food b/c it wasn't massed produced and held the nutrients of what the cow ate.

  4. Those tastes are the hallmark of all great food. The way honey can taste like the plants the bees visited, or the buffalo like the grasses it ate, or the cheese like the herbs the cows ate. Those tastes are almost always lost in industrial food.

    The same can be said of nutrition. Plants are only as nutritious as the soil they grow in. Pumping the ground full of N-P-K may result in larger vegetables, but they will lack the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals of plants grown in soil that is properly cared for.

    In fact, the nutritional quality of produce in North America has been consistently falling since the 1950s.

    I guess I should note that I don't know anything about biochemistry, and that all the above nutrition information is from In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

  5. Maybe all of you guys are unique but there does seem to be a trend for some of this generation to get back to the basics. As a baby boomer who grew up on the farm (with and outhouse until I was 16) we never really appreciated fresh farm produce until we didn't have the same access to it any more. I wonder what percentage of your generation are fooodies.