Easy Homemade Butter, Step by Step

You can make fresh, homemade butter in just a few easy steps, and you do not need a separator or a churn. What a fun family project!

| March/April 1978

Forget about buying an expensive cream separator or butter churn. Forget anything anyone ever told you about butter being hard to make. Because if you want to produce your own flavorful, creamy "high-priced spread" from fresh cow's milk, you can do it — quickly, easily and without any expensive equipment — in just four easy steps. Here's how to make butter:

Making Butter Step 1: Skim, Then Culture Cream

Start by pouring one gallon of milk (fresh from the cow) into a clean container. Chill the milk quickly, and keep it in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Then skim the cream off the top of the fluid with a spoon. When you begin to see watery skim milk in the spoon, stop skimming.

Next pour the cream into a jar, cap the container tightly and let it sit on the kitchen drainboard for approximately 12 hours (or until the cream is about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and smells slightly sour). This is called ripening or culturing which is developing the acid content of the cream. (Only cultured cream will produce butter with a good "butter flavor.") Experience will teach you when your cream smells too sour or too ripe and when it's just perfect. I usually set the cream on the drainboard after breakfast and make butter after supper the same day.

Making Butter Step 2: Shake Cream

For this step, it's imperative that you use a jar that is only 1/3 full. (If you need to pour your cream into a larger container at this point, do so.) The "empty" two-thirds of the jar allows the cream to expand as you shake it and also allows the thick fluid to splash against the walls of the container more violently when the jar is shaken. (This splashing — technically known as concussion — is what turns cream into butter. It is the same action of churning, but without a butter churn.)

OK. Now sit down in your favorite chair, and start shaking the 1/3-full jar of ripened cream, keeping in mind that concussion is what makes the butter form. Practice agitating the jar so that a heavy impact occurs between the cream and the walls of the container.

The length of time you'll have to shake the liquid before you'll begin to see butter depends on [a] the cream's temperature, [b] the enthusiasm with which you agitate the jar and [c] the amount of cream in the container. Hence, it's better to look for butter rather than to try to make it "by the clock." (In case you're wondering though, you'll usually have to continue shaking for 15 to 30 minutes.) What do you look for? Just before you get butter, you'll notice that the churned cream is becoming "heavy." Then you'll begin to see a definite separation between the buttermilk and a heavy mass of butter.

6/18/2011 9:20:23 PM

I read the article but was first attracted by the very deceptive title. "How to Make Butter Without a Separator, Without a Churn, and Without Difficulty" I was hopeful that someone had discovered a way to collect the cream without a separator. Pulling the cream off the top is relatively easy unless you happen to have cows that have cream so finely dispersed that it does not separate. Another disappointment because we purchased our cows based on research some of which came from Mother Earth News. If you want cream to use that can be skimmed from the top of chilled milk that has been standing for a day or so do not consider Dexter cows or you will be disappointed. We are in the processing of replacing all of our cows with another small breed (Highland) that hopefully will provide us with the cream we need without having to buy a separator.

Megan Smith
10/28/2010 10:00:24 PM

This is precisely the advice I was hoping to find! From our growing mini family farm in southern Veracruz, Thank you! I hope to try soon and hope to learn to make tasty butter for baking my childhood's sweets in these foreign lands.

Megan Smith
10/28/2010 9:57:40 PM

This is precisely the advice I was hoping to find! From our growing mini family farm in southern Veracruz, Thank you! I hope to try soon and hope to learn to make tasty butter for baking my childhood's sweets in these foreign lands.

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