How to Make Butter at Home

Making butter at home is a fast and easy project for kids — or adults — that lets you see for yourself where this basic and familiar food comes from.

| September/October 2007


We all know and love real butter, but did you know this familiar food is easy to make at home?

Istock/Linda & Colin McKie

Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver frequently writes about food, and in her essay Lily's Chickens she writes that she has become captivated by the alchemy of making butter and cheese. But while cheese is an art, Kingsolver writes, butter is a sport.

It's hard to disagree. Not only does making butter involve a certain amount of physical effort (unless you use a blender) but the whole process is pretty straightforward. In fact, because making butter is so simple, it makes a great project for kids ? or adults. It's a fast and easy process that lets you see for yourself where this basic and familiar food comes from.

The Basic Process

To make butter, first start with a simple ingredient, heavy cream. You can buy whipping cream at the grocery store, although if you live in a part of the country where you can get fresh cream from a dairy, so much the better.

Next, stir up the cream so that the butterfat globules begin to separate from the liquid. One of the simplest ways to do this is to get a canning jar with a sturdy lid and fill it about one-third full of cream. Then simply shake the jar until you feel and see the butter separate. When that happens, there's a sudden and noticeable difference in the consistency. That's the time to stop shaking.

Now separate the butter from the buttermilk by straining it. A colander or piece of cheesecloth may be helpful for this task. Rinse the butter with cold water, gently turning the butter with a spoon while the cold water runs over it until the water runs clear. Then mix in a little bit of salt, to taste ? or leave the butter unsalted if you prefer. Put the butter in the refrigerator. Let it chill, and then it's ready to eat!

Stephen Rice
12/27/2008 4:52:07 AM

I think this method is lacking in one crucial area - yes the butter must be separated from the buttermilk but that doesn't mean you should wash it away. Buttermilk is a great addition to baking and is particularly useful in breakfast pancakes

11/4/2008 8:39:45 PM

I've just finished Kingsolver's book and was inspired to seek out local farms. I've discovered many places within an hour's drive to obtain grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, pasture-raised pigs, and a real-live dairy. I bought some lovely heavy cream and make my first batch of butter today, using my Kitchen Aid mixer. I was so surprised at how fast and easy it was, and how truly fantastic the resulting butter is.

10/26/2008 5:02:43 PM

(second part to below) In this highly urbanized world where people have never seen a milk cow, think that food comes from a can or freezer bag---the advertising folks get away with murder and misinformation such as 'fat free buttermilk". Is it any wonder that thousands of Chinese babies have been harmed by the addition of melamine and lord knows what else to what was otherwise wholesome milk? My introduction to this kind of urbanized world was when I was 5 years old and taken to the Natonal Zoo in Washington and saw farm animals there. I thought this was strange but did not know city kids (let alone adults) probably had never seen farm animals or knew their uses. Yes I know that too much fat is not good for anyone but buttermilk and butter are very healthy and necessary to life when used in moderate amounts. The French are heavy butter users but they also drink wine with their meals which helps to counteract any cholesterol problems. One can also counteract cholesterol effects with excercise and hard work instead of the cushy soft lifestyles of today's urbanization. High quality buttermilk and butter have in them symbiotic bacteria that make vitamin B complex vitamins for us in our intestines. They are therefore very healthy and necessary for good health in moderation. The world can not live without the farmer/rancher or the small home farm because on their shoulders rests the foundations of civilization. Urban folks forget this and buy up farmlands develop them into urban bedroom communities where the residents then complain about the smells, noise coming from what was there before they moved to the country while pushing the farmer/rancher to extinction and collecting their government subsideries to boot like the Louisiana physician who bought up a 2000 acre farm with rice subsidiaries. He did not farm but he still got his government subsidiary because the previous owners grew rice---a corruption that needs to cease.

10/26/2008 4:58:52 PM

The best butter of quality is that made the old fashion way in a cleaned and preferably sterilized hand 5-10 gallon stoneware churn with fresh milk direct from Jersey cow (that has been first chilled after milking) because Jersey milk has the highest fat content (4.8%) usually of high quality. As a child, it was a very pleasant past time to churn for my grandmother and it kept me out of trouble besides. For my grandmother, it was a time in which she could sit and listen to her radio soap operas while she churned. The chief disadvantage here is that people who do not clean their churns thoroughly after use will find molds developing in their butter but this is not a problem when the wooden churner ("paddle"--consist of a circular piece of wood(almot the full diameter of the stoneware jar) attached to a broom handle) and stoneware churn are thoroughly washed cleaned after each use and dried. Butter made this way most often results in a very high quality butter just as unpressed olives yield high quality extra virgin olive oil when loaded into the hopper before being pressed. The best part was after butter was made and set aside. We now had buttermilk left of high quality compared to what one finds passing for buttermilk today in the supermarkets---such as 'fat free' buttermilk (t'ain no sech animule), "Gourmet"(an abuse of the word) buttermilk with added adulterants in it such as guar gum, annatto coloring, water(ever wonder why store bought sour cream warns 'do not freeze'---that is because water has been added to it and freezing will separate water from the real sour cream) dried whey instead of just plain wholesome milk that has slightly soured during the churning process that has a delicious taste. On butter making days, my grandmother would often be too tired to prepare a full evening meal and we would have nothing but hot cornbread in a glass of buttermilk if nothing was left over from Dinner (the noon time me

Johnathan Godbee
10/24/2008 12:50:37 PM

we churn butter 2 times a week . Our 5 year old loves to help it gives us time to sit down with each other.

Deanna Duke_1
10/24/2008 12:15:44 PM

I used this article to start making butter at home and it's a method I use all the time (the canning jar and shaking method). I blogged about it and wrote up minute by minute instructions, including pictures, on how to make it yourself since the first time going through it, it can be hard to tell what to do when: Hope that helps!

heidi hudson
9/18/2007 12:00:00 AM

I've made butter by shaking it up in a plastic milk jug with a marble in it. Works pretty well!

Jacque Brooks
9/18/2007 12:00:00 AM

I hadn't thought about making butter for years until I read your article. When I was about ten I realized how wonderful fresh baked bread and homemade butter was. While my grandmother made the bread I "got" to churn the butter. I have that old butter churn and plan to get it down from atop my Hoosier cabinet to make some fresh butter for my granddaughter this weekend. I hope she will have some wonderful memories someday to tell her grandchildern about the day we made butter; like the ones I have of my Grandmother and me.

Robert Carpenter
9/18/2007 12:00:00 AM

My mother showed us how to do this with the canning jar too.It is nice to be able to actually see the process as it goes along. And it IS a experience that you will never forget. I haven't!

D.L. McCombs
9/14/2007 12:00:00 AM

My mother showed us how to do this with the canning jar too.It is nice to be able to actually see the process as it goes along. And it IS a experience that you will never forget. I haven't!

Laurie Clark
9/13/2007 12:00:00 AM

RE: Making Butter at HomeAs children, my sister and I would make butter in a churn. We thought it was great fun till our arms ached from the up and down, up and down motion. That was the best butter ever. We milked our own cows with NO HORMONE additives and separated our own milk as well. I still have the cream separator that we used. Too bad we can't have the good from today's world with the good from the past.

Jerry McKissack
9/12/2007 12:00:00 AM

We make our own homemade butter using our Kitchen Aid mixer - it takes approximately 10 minutes on medium speed before the butter separates.We also add Canola Oil (2 tablespoons per quart of cream) which helps make the butter more spreadable.We ran the numbers on the cost of Heavy Whipping Cream per pound of butter and there's not much savings (as compared to Land O'Lakes butter) unless you can buy the Whipping Cream at Sams Club.

Liz Caron
9/12/2007 12:00:00 AM

My older sister made butter quite by accident. She was making whipped cream with the mixer & just whipped it too long, turning it to butter. I honestly didn't think one could make it any other way than this or the old fashioned churning way. Thanks for the tip!

Lydia Erb
9/12/2007 12:00:00 AM

When I was 11 years old, we were fortunate enough to have a cow. Mom put the cream in a gallon jar, and I sat in the rocking chair, rocking it on my lap until the butter made. It is one of my fondest memories.Lydia Erb

Elizabeth Roudebush
9/11/2007 12:00:00 AM

We used the "shaking the jar" method from time to time when I was growing up. Later I married a city boy who refused to believe this could be done. Ha!If you have children or grandchildren, by all means make your own butter, even if only once. They'll remember it forever, and be grateful that you took the time to teach them.

Sherrie A
9/11/2007 12:00:00 AM

We made homemade butter every Thanksgiving while our children were growing up. They looked forward to it every year, and nothing tasted better on our homemade rolls!

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