Homemade Butter: The Best You'll Ever Have

Whether you want it creamy or cultured, learn the secrets of fresh sweet homemade butter.


| June/July 2009


Of the sweet cream homemade butter I’d churned earlier in the day, my Italian visitor said, “It tasted heavenly.” Sweet cream butter is made from cream that has not been acidified by the conversion of milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid by lactobacillus bacteria. Think of it as butter straight from the cow. The butter I served my friend was unsalted; so, in the slightly confusing language of butter, it was sweet sweet cream butter (not salted and not acidified).

Sweet Cream Butter

Sweet sweet cream butter is the purest butter — it most cleanly expresses the essence of the underlying cream. It was April when I made dinner for my friend, so the cows were eating from spring pasture. Spring pasture butter is more delicately flavored than the rest of the year, and more yellow because spring and early summer grasses are the most nutritionally complex, containing the highest levels of beta carotene. Indeed, the butter I made for my friend was sweet and bright yellow.

Prior to the industrialization of butter manufacturing in the late 19th century, butter sales were local, and butter customers were connoisseurs in a way that we are not. Early spring butter commanded a higher price than any other. Modern dairy practices ignore seasonal differences by feeding cows an unnatural diet of year-round grain. If you often make butter from good cream, you will notice changes as the seasons progress.

Cultured Butter

In the 7,000-year history of butter, sweet cream butter is comparatively new. In the few hundred years prior to the industrialization of butter making, cream was cultured before it was churned. Culturing was the consequence of the universal practice of accumulating multiple milkings before churning. There was no refrigeration, so the cream was stored in a cool room.

Because raw cream is naturally full of benign bacteria, raw cream ferments and sours on its own, without the addition of a bacterial culture. Fermentation by lactobacillus bacteria changes the chemistry of cream, making its flavors more complex. Among other changes, it produces lactic acid, making the cream less “sweet.” Of even greater importance to butter makers working hand churns, culturing helps make churned cream “break” faster into the two products of butter making: butter and buttermilk.

When sweet cream butter was first introduced in America in the late 19th century, there was consumer resistance because, as described in one 20th-century text, “Flat flavor is noticeable in butter made from unripened cream.” Now this flat-tasting butter is the standard butter in America, Canada, and England. In comparison to cultured butters, sweet cream butter will always taste flat. But it has special qualities of its own. Fresh sweet cream butter is the taste of the cream unmediated by the butter maker. It often has a lovely fresh and milky taste.

Barebear
1/3/2015 5:15:17 PM

I was the butter boy and made butter by skimming the cream off fresh milk after cooling and by putting in a large glass jar and shaking...nothing to it and sooo goooood


Darlene Konitzer
2/23/2013 7:19:43 PM

I once had a Jersey cow. we lived in the country, but not on a farm. I wanted my kids to experience the way I grew up on a small farm. We made butter & icecream & had wonderful, tastey milk. I would take her, Mabel, to the one room school across the road so the kids there could see & pet her. wonderful memories


William Rubel
1/4/2010 1:27:45 PM

Here is a general response to posts regarding raw milk and commercial cream. 1. Yes, in some states raw milk is sold legally. I live in such a state, California, so I am sometimes guilty of forgetting that most of us are not so lucky. 2. I get raw goat milk from local farms. I find them through the Local Harvest web site --http://www.localharvest.org/. 3. You can also ask about raw milk from farmers at farmers markets. Ask around enough and you may find someone willing to sell to you. 4. You can also get political. I note that we are permitted to drive (tens of thousands of deaths a year from driving), smoke, drink alcohol, ski, and, etc. So, one could argue that we could take on the risk, if any, from raw milk. 5. Regarding commecial cream. Again, I live in Northern California where we have a good selection of cream in normal markets, including, at least in my city, raw cream. I would say that as a rule the more expensive the grocery store, the more "upscale" the customers, the better selection of cream you will find. 6. Cream that is just marked "pasteurized" is pasteurized at a lower temperature than "ultra pasteurized." There are many ways to pasteurize as it is partly a matter of time and temperature. But always avoid the ultra-pasteurized if you can. But, again, it won't hurt you and you should use what you can easily get. The butter will still taste wonderful.






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!

LEARN MORE