I grew up in the age of margarine. Cheaper than butter and touted as healthier, there were always sticks of margarine in the refrigerator for baking and tubs of spread for bread. It never really tasted that good to me, so I would eat my bread dry. When I started paying more attention to food, I learned about how bad hydrogenated vegetable oils are for you, and I switched to butter. Wow, what a difference! How did humans ever think they could improve on this traditional food?
Luckily, butter is one of those products we can get in Alaska… sort of. Well, we have one producer, Matanuska Creamery, who makes butter, but the demand and profit margin for ice cream in the summer is much better than butter, so all available cream goes toward making ice cream. So, Matt and I signed up for a cow-milk and cream share, since goat milk doesn’t separate out naturally. For $5, we can get a half-gallon of milk and a pint of cream per week. Great!
With our first pint of cream I used the “blender method” as described in the Joy of Cooking. A bit messy, and the buttermilk gets watered down making it less usable. For the second pint, I tried the “shake jar” method. Basically, shake the jar until it turns into butter. It works, but my arm was sore and it took a long time!
The other thing I noticed was that a pint of cream didn’t really make enough butter to get us through the week. It was enough for cooking and for our bread, but if I wanted to do any baking, there wasn’t enough. I never really realized how much butter we used because I would always stock up when the organic butter was on sale. Also, I was suddenly enjoying having fresh cream available. We made ice cream, luscious sauces, soups, desserts… a new world was opened up! So, we decided to order a gallon of cream from the Matanuska Creamery (somehow, this was still available.)
Fantastic. How many times will I have to shake a jar to turn a gallon of cream into butter? Too many. Especially when you fill the jar too full and the cream expands and there is no room for the cream to shake in the jar. And, as I learned, when your cream is too cold, it won’t turn until the heat of your hands has warmed it up to at least 52 degrees. So, I got out the food processer, put my slightly whipped cream in (keeping a little out for my blueberries..yum!), and turned it on. Less than a minute later, it turned into butter. Excellent! Well, as it turns out, that is the easy part. After you pour off the buttermilk, you must wash the rest of the buttermilk out of the butter with water because the buttermilk will cause the butter to spoil faster and give it an off-taste. So, you put water into the food processor, turn it on, turn it off, pour off the water, and repeat 10 times! Finally, when the water you pour off is more of less clear, you put the butter into a bowl and press the rest of the water out of it. Whew!! Then you put more cream in the food processer and start all over again.
By the time I had all the butter salted and wrapped up in the refrigerator or freezer, I had a new appreciation for butter. It seems like such a simple substance when you buy it in the store. I had no idea of the whole process that goes into making it. But we got really fresh, tasty butter. And buttermilk. Lighter and fresher than the buttermilk you buy in the store because it hasn’t been cultured, it is delicious to drink and fantastic for baking!!