Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homemade Cultured Butter with Celtic Sea Salt

The Setting: A balmy day at my in-laws' home in Nashville. 

The Soundtrack: Birds, corgis, wind chimes, family.

Satisfying my Sweet Tooth: A mammoth apple fritter from the Donut Den.

The Scenario: Making a butter that's worthy of your favorite bread.

One of my favorite field trips as a kid was to an old historical site where we kindergartners got to make our own butter just like they did in the old days--okay, the early settlers used churns, and we used babyfood jars and added yellow food coloring to the cream...but other than that it was just like in the old days.

Twenty-something years later, I got a new favorite field trip: a visit to a Kerrygold creamery in County Cork, Ireland. I didn't get to shake any jars, but I got to sneak a peak as pristine machines churned snow-white milk into golden-yellow butter, no food-coloring required.

The Irish butter, made from cultured cream collected from grass-fed cows from a farmer-owned co-op, was the best I'd ever tasted.

My former love, the sweet-cream (uncultured) butter ubiquitous in the States, was suddenly yesterday's garbage.

I dreamed of owning a creamery one day where I'd churn out vats and vats of my very own cultured butter.

The dream always seemed so distant until a month or so ago, when Hoosband and I attended a cheese-making class at Standing Stone Farms outside of Nashville.

Our gifted instructor, Paula Butler, led us through a butter-making demonstration and explained how we could take our homemade butter to the next level by adding a pinch of powdered mesophilic culture to the cream the night before churning.

Presto! Cultured butter.

The butter can be "churned" in a stand mixer, blender, or even by hand (if, you know, you're training for an arm-wrestling tournament or something).

I use a Vitamix, which takes about a minute and a half. The danger of using a high-powered blender is that it could shatter the butter before you realize it's ready, making it harder to drain and resulting in a somewhat inferior texture. Whatever method you choose, just keep an eye on the cream. The moment you see clear liquid (and solid white chunks), you are done.

It's highly important to strain off all the liquid at this point because the buttermilk (yes, this watery stuff is real buttermilk) is highly perishable (best used within a few hours) and will greatly diminish the shelf life of the butter if not completely drained off.

Once the buttermilk has been drained off, season the butter with salt. YOU MUST ADD SALT. If you do not, the butter, in all its beautiful, homemade glory, will taste like nothing. You can add any salt you like. I like coarse, gray, Celtic sea salt the best. It has great flavor, and the coarse-but-somewhat-soft crystals provide tiny bursts of texture in the creamy, smooth butter.

The butter can be made in any quantity and is a great use for any half-spent cartons of cream lurking around the fridge. Never let unused cream spoil on you again!

Mesophilic culture can be easily sourced on the Internet or from cheese-making shops. If you don't feel like adding the culture, simply omit it. Homemade sweet cream butter is still pretty fabulous.

Homemade Cultured Butter
The cream needs to be at room temperature--60-70 degrees F. I leave my cream out on the counter for 8 hours to warm up and let the culture do its thing. This is 4 hours longer than food safety rules allow. If this is a concern for you, do not leave the cream out for more than 4 hours. 

heavy whipping cream (grass-fed and organic if possible)
pinch of powdered mesophilic culture
salt, to taste

At least 4 hours before you'd like to make your butter, add a pinch of mesophilic culture to the carton of cream and leave the cream out at room temperature to warm up. I suggest starting with a small pinch of the culture and experimenting with quantities each time you make butter until you find your magic amount.

When ready to make the butter, pour the cream into a blender.

Turn on the blender and blend on high just until you see clear liquid and/or solid chunks. With a Vitamix, this should take 1-2 minutes. First it will turn to whipped cream. The mixer will seem to stall out for a few seconds after this. Suddenly, the cream will start to move again, and very shortly thereafter you will have butter. But it won't look like butter yet.

It will look something like this--note the separation of solids and liquid.

If you would like to keep the buttermilk to drink, cook with, or add to coffee in the immediate future, strain the buttermilk into a bowl and set the liquid aside before rinsing the butter with ice-cold water to wash off any remaining buttermilk--otherwise go straight to rinsing.

Use a rubber spatula to help press out any liquid.

Lightly pat dry with a paper towel and use a spatula to mix in the salt. Taste the butter to see if you need more salt. Place the butter on a sheet of parchment or plastic wrap and roll into a ball or log--alternatively, press into molds.

Store the butter in the fridge for up to one week, or freeze for later use.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.

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