Spread the Love: Making Homemade Butter

Cook it Forward Fall 2018 Issue

Spread the Love: Making Homemade Butter

By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

Last summer during a cooking demonstration at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, I showed a group of school-agers how to make butter. All I did was pour cream into a stainless-steel bowl and offer them a turn at whipping it, and they practically jumped into the bowl trying to get at the beaters. A few minutes later, when liquid released from the cream and a glossy ball of solid butter had formed, it was as if we had pulled a rabbit out of a hat, such were the oohs and ahhs. Still, the biggest reaction of all came when I brought out baskets of bread and let them try it. Stampede!

There really is nothing like good butter, and happily, there are a lot of righteous butters out there these days. Low-moisture, high-fat European-style butter, the darling of sauce- and pastry-makers. Antioxidant-rich grass-fed butter, churned from the milk of cows that have fed on organic pasture grasses. Locally made specialty butters, produced in small batches at cooperatives and family-owned creameries. The question is, which is best? Well, that’s easy: The best butter these days is what it has always been. Homemade.

Mason jar filled with freshly shaken DIY butter.

With its incomparable fresh flavor and magic-like transformation from white liquid to plush, pale-gold solid, doityourself butter is a thrill to eat…and pretty much a snap to make. In fact, if you can overwhip cream, you can make butter, because that’s what it is: cream that has been agitated enough to separate its liquid (buttermilk) from its solids (butterfat).

Butter happens whether it’s beaten in a stand-up mixer, thrashed in a food processor or shaken in a lidded jar. I go for a hand mixer myself, because it’s easier to use and clean up than the first two, and it works much faster than a jar. Whatever container or machine you choose, the thing to put in it is pure, preferably organic, heavy cream. Look for “pasteurized” on the label, not “ultra-pasteurized,” please—its high-heat treatment compromises flavor and the cream’s ability to whip well.

Good cream will whip nicely whether it’s cold or at room temperature, but note that if you take it out of the fridge six or more hours before starting, it will also culture, or ferment, giving your butter some lovely tanginess and making it more digestible than uncultured, or “sweet,” butter. This is a very nice extra, but it isn’t necessary.

Watch for several changes in the cream as you whip it. First it will thicken into soft mounds, then stiff peaks will take shape. Soon the cream will look curdled, and then small, solid bits of butter will begin to appear and throw off liquid— this is buttermilk (drain this off occasionally, to drink or use later). Keep going and you’ll see larger, pale-yellow blobs of butter next. When these coalesce into a soft, solid mass and no longer throw off liquid, you’re there.

Ta-da! Butter. Stand back for the stampede.

Making your own butter is super easy. Here's how to do it!

A Mason jar filled with freshly shaken DIY butter. Click for recipe.

Now try your DIY butter in these excellent recipes:

Shapes made of butter with flower garnishes. Click for recipe.

Butter cookies with local nuts on a cutting board. Click for recipe.

Butter fried salt and pepper egg noodles in an orange bowl with flower garnishes. Click for recipe.


Terese Allen has written scores of books and articles about the foodways of Wisconsin, including the award-winning titles "The Flavor of Wisconsin" and "The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids." She is co-founder and a longtime leader of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW). If you want to get Terese going, just ask her the best way to fix an old-fashioned, how to hunt for morels, or why fish fries thrive in our state.

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