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How to Churn Butter from Raw Cream, and Six ways to use Home Made Butter

2016 November 19
File this one also away under "food curiosities of the global south"--unless--

You find yourself living in a small town which vies for global smart city designations while beating with the heart of a provincial fishing village–and your milk comes daily from a cow.

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At first, you’ll approach your new life with old information. You’ll skim off the cream that forms after daily boilings of your 1.5l milk quota and toss what you’ve learned to treat as cholesterol-heavy fat into the trash — until all your many mothers stand agape at your American wastefulness and set the ease of your trashing habits against the ease of churning butter. You’ll smart at their jibes and roll up your sleeves: no American are thee.

But unlike your mothers and grandmothers, who legendarily churned butter from raw cream as easily as they drew sparkling dishes from soapy water, you will struggle long and hard. Your raw cream, now carefully lifted from daily boilings of fresh milk and stored over several days would whip — and whip — and whip — until your patience would run as thin and brittle as the mass would be thick and unyielding. Slick and shiny, it would have neither the lightness of whipped cream nor the weight of sour cream, and certainly none of the yellow richness of butter.

You would salvage it by simply boiling it to extract ghee, but the whole process would be messy and greasy and utterly inelegant.

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You’d have to start over. You’d hear once again the words St. Nicholas addressed to the baker: fall again, mount again, learn how to count again. Humbled, you’ll ask around for advice: Beth from The One Cow Revolution will be, for long, your only source. So disconnected are we from the sources of our own sustenance, that we might well think of home-made butter as the mistake we make by over-beating store-bought pasteurized whipping cream.

Your mothers will offer again (why didn’t they tell you at the start? Oh never mind…) that cream needs to sour to give up its fat: add to it some yogurt culture, add also the cream that forms on top of yogurts, quick-quick now before the boys lick it all up. Other errant daughters such as yourself will offer other strange tales of their families’ butter-making habits, each one insisting again and again on the magical simplicity of the process: “My mother puts some yogurt into the cream, leaves it out overnight, and in the morning she has butter.” Or: “My father used to sit for long hours churning. Then he would go on adding hot water and then cold water and somehow he would get butter.”

It’s easy, don’t you get it? That easy. Why isn’t it working? Must be something wrong with you. Inexperienced. Child. Woman. American.

Hear it all, but stick to your sense of self, girl. You’ll start to realize two things: first, that food is a craft that is not always easy to master, and when people insist that it is, you must hear that as the story we would like to tell in the end, not the one that really unfolds. Their insistence on magical simplicity hides one truth: witchery is an art that must be learned, the hard way.That’s the second lesson. Mothers will say and aunts will tell and friends will try and everyone will promise and insist and smile–but it’s you left with the shiny slick mass that won’t churn, nowhere to turn. You’re on your own in the end. You’re only ever on your own.

But never left alone, did you realize? You’ve been getting clues all along, so stop, pause, and listen again to the messages that the universe sends. Cream needs to sour. Souring happens overnight. Hot water and then cold: heat to allow cultures to develop, cold to allow the butter to congeal. Look at your mass. Add a generous quantity of yogurt to it (yogurt being the most effective souring agent around), whip it once, and leave it be for the remainder of the day.

Back home from work and too tired to deal with the butter that won’t? No matter. Stick it in the fridge. Mornings are wiser than evenings, as the Russian proverb goes. Colder temperatures will yield butter faster.

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In the wiser morning, churn again. This time, you’ll hear the butter before you see it. The beating paddle’s sounds will change from whipping to a lap-lap-spash-splash: an unfailing sign that buttermilk is giving up its butter fat, at last.

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Reduce the speed of your paddle (or risk a splashing mess everywhere), and add more cold water to help the butter congeal. Drain off the buttermilk into a separate jar, and repeat the “washing” process at least once more. Drain off the water, which should run now less milky.

Use a slotted spoon to left out any bits of floating butterfat. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to lift and fold the butter, squeezing out any remaining water that’s trapped within. This is important, as left-over buttermilk will cause the butter to turn rancid faster, so get it as “dry” as possible.

You can salt the butter now if you like, or shape it as you please. Get it back into the icebox as soon as possible, to make it easier to handle.

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In the meantime, attend to your buttermilk (yes, alongside butter, you made real buttermilk):

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And dream rich buttery dreams in a hundred foreign tongues whose words you cannot speak but taste.

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Starting with dark chocolate hazelnut butter, your home-made nutella with only as much sugar as you want to add and absolutely no goopey palm oil solids:

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From France: Buerre blanc, an emulsion of butter and vinegar-lemon, really, which adds zip and tang to anything.
Buerre noisette, or nutty brown butter.

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From India: clarified butter, or ghee

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Hints of things Italian: sundried tomato and anchovy butter

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And an all-purpose herbed garlic butter log.

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paticheri_herbed garlic butter log

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4 Responses Post a comment
  1. November 20, 2016

    I am enriched by your proverbs, wisdom of the world — how much of what we want to build our lives into is only possible by following the proverbs in blind faith!

    • November 27, 2016

      Beth, thank you — for being there in the beginning, for this continued conversation about butter-making, and for sharing my interest in these little sayings and bits of wisdom. I replied to you on how to follow the blog; I think it’s a matter of following the RSS feed icon or this link: — which should allow you to sign up for the email updates. I hope we find other ways and means to stay in touch!

  2. Raissa Fichardo permalink
    November 21, 2016

    This was a visual as well as literary treat Deepa 🙂

    • November 27, 2016

      Thank you so much Raissa! It was a post that had been “building” for some time! I finally got it where I wanted it..

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