Butter me up!
An important part of homesteading is supplying your food needs. We have all grown up being told butter, and saturated fat is bad for us. I don’t happen to believe that is true, knowing people who worked hard, ate red meat, butter, whole milk, and eggs from their farms and lived to the ripe old age of 80 to 90 years. Sure, they died, but they were active and working their land, right up to the last breath almost. It cracks me up to hear people say. “Well, you know, old so & so, he was drinking whole milk, no wonder he died!” I always think that’s probably why he was still hauling hay and splitting ten cords of wood a year… . None of us will live forever.
This is kind of a peak oil subject, The End, or whatever you want to call it. I think fats are an overlooked item, when people are thinking of stocking up on food. Your brain needs good fat, to help you think clearly. Your body needs good fat to supply energy needs. High cholesterol means that your body is trying to repair itself – cancer maybe? Low cholesterol is just as bad, it means something in the machine we call a body, is not functioning properly. For us, a dairy cow is a good fit, we can have milk, butter, cheese, and the cow will raise it’s calf for us for beef, all on feedstuffs we can grow and harvest ourselves. We have pasture, so that is why the cow is our dairy animal of choice. Grass not grain, will give you healthy butter to eat. If you have more brush, goats would be a better choice. We also have cougar predation problems, so cattle are easier for us to keep.
In this post I will show how we make our butter, with a few tips, and tricks along the way.
L – 2 gallon Dazey Churn R - 1gallon Dazey Churn
These churns weren’t passed down to me, I bought them. I bought the top first for the one gallon churn, at an antique store. As the case with many churns, the jar had been broken. I used a new replacement jar from NASCO farm supply for many years before I found an original #40 jar at a flea market. I also found the screen at a garage sale in a free box. That churn dates from the ’20′s and is still a good design.
The 2 gallon #8 was purchased on eBay, and it was only $65.00, I use it the most. I can make twice the butter in the same amount of time, as the smaller churn. I also have a 3 gallon Dazey that I got as a BD present this year. I was too lazy to dust it off for the picture, but it is made out of metal, and sits in a cast iron stand.
What makes these work so well, is the shape of the jar. Either square, or with the indentations in the pear shaped jar. I see churns for sale, old or new matched with just any jar, most of the time the jar is round (because the lid just happens to fit). This is another case of oversimplifying a complex task. I can churn my butter in 7 – 10 minutes with my hand cranked churns. If you are trying to make butter in a round bowl (Kitchenaid perhaps) or a round jar, and it is taking a long time, think about it. With a square jar the cream isn’t just being swirled around, it is being agitated and that’s what it takes to make butter fast. (plus a few other factors I’ll talk about below) Higher power in the form of electricity isn’t necessarily needed, I borrowed a friend’s new Gem Dandy electric churn once, it took forever and I had to watch the damn thing to boot. Sometimes multi-tasking in the form of “Oh while the butter is churning I’ll go do something else” just creates more work. At least with my easily distracted mind it does. I might offer up some food for thought here too, an easy approach with our food isn’t a bad thing. It’s known that milking machines forcibly milking a cow will damage the teat canal over time, making your cow more susceptible to mastitis. Could it be that maybe whipping your butter for a long time could lessen it’s food value? We all know what overbeating egg whites for cake leavening does. I’m not saying people should milk 50 cows by hand, or even 5, but sometimes all these little things add up to big things. We humans are soooo good at changing and tweaking and making our lives a little easier, it is hard to know where to stop. I have stopped at hand milking and hand churning for our dairy needs. Oops, there is that belly aching thing again – on to the churning…
The amount of cream you have to churn, determines what size of churn you need. To work properly, you need to fill the jar half-full. A 2 gallon churn uses 1 gallon of cream, a 1 gallon, uses a 1/2 gallon of cream. If you fill the churn jar more than this, it won’t churn as well, and much less won’t give the desired results either. So size really does matter.
How much milk does it take to get a 1/2 gallon of cream? Well, like every other question – the answer is, that depends. I hand skim, so it takes 4 gallons for me to gather a 1/2 gallon of cream and this would yield 1 pound of butter. My cow is giving 4 gallons a day, so ideally I could get a pound of butter each day, if I skim every single gallon of milk. That doesn’t happen, we drink whole milk, so some of that isn’t available for butter making. I could get more cream if I wanted to use my cream separator, but I don’t want to wash the cream separator every day, and they work the best with warm milk, so using that machine would mean more daily milk chores for me, which I don’t want. So the trade-off is that I get less cream, and the bucket calf, and the pigs get a little more. And, that is OK, I’m trying to grow them, and save on my feed bill. Also, if Della’s calves had lived, I would be sharing that milk with them. I let my milk cow’s calves nurse, so they get whole milk, from their mother, not me. This is also the best way to avoid mastitis, besides providing a clean area for your cow. A calf can get that last drop of milk out much better than any human or machine. I laugh every time I read in a vet book about cows not liking stripping. I don’t either!
The cream should be allowed to rise at least 24 hours before skimming.
This is an antique cream skimmer, but I don’t use it. This would be used on a shallow pan of milk like Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in Little House.
I use a large serving spoon. I don’t get every last bit of cream, but that is OK. To lessen chance of contamination I don’t skim until I have enough milk at least 24 hours old to make a churning of butter. Which means I wait until I have 8 gallons of milk, because if I skimmed each gallon as the cream was ready, I could be potentially contaminating the cream. It took me awhile to figure this one out, I would skim a half gallon worth of cream, and then it would be a few days before I had enough to skim the second 1/2 gallon, and lo and behold, sometimes my first batch of cream was spoiled. I also taste the cream on each jar before skimming it. It doesn’t take much bad cream to ruin a lot of good cream. The worst enemy for milk spoilage in the home dairy are jars that aren’t clean. And, this means not properly rinsed of all soap residue too. Most people concentrate on getting the milk out of the cow, and into the house clean, and then quit worrying about it. I use Lifetree* liquid soap on my milk utensils, and canning jars. It leaves no residues, and really gets the jars and buckets clean. * Available from Azure Standard
Half gallon of cream, this would yield one pound of butter and at least a quart of buttermilk.
A dairy thermometer is helpful, but not necessary. Cream should be around 62* F to churn easily. After skimming, I leave my cream out to ripen, sometimes overnight, if it gets too warm, I will refrigerate it until the desired 62*. If you want cultured butter and buttermilk, add it before ripening. A good store brand of cultured buttermilk will work fine, for a culture, if you don’t want to spend the money for mail order cultures. You can use this for awhile, but you can get some wild bacteria going if you keep using your own cultured buttermilk for too long. So if your cream starts getting an off taste, and you’re sure you are being sanitary in every other area, buy some more buttermilk. Those companies change their cultures often for the same reason.
Early lactation cream is easier to churn. The fat globules are larger in order to make it easier for a young calf to digest. So you can use this to your advantage, I try to make all my butter early in the cow’s lactation so it doesn’t take so much time. At this point, the cow is giving more milk than the calf needs, and I want more butter, which I can easily store in the freezer for up to a year. Cream also churns easier if a cow is on grass, hay and grain can make the cream “hard”, which is easy to overlook if you are using a machine to churn. This is old time knowledge that maybe shouldn’t be overlooked in some cases.
The optimum time for calving and butter and cheese making, is in the spring through summer months. We as a society have pushed these old seasonal norms to year round, but does anyone remember the story of Heidi, it was based on the premise, that the dairy products from animals grazed on mineralized pastures during spring and summer, was truly a healing food. Simple, yet so soon forgotten.
Two gallon churn with one gallon of cream. Ready to churn.
After churning 3 – 5 minutes, the you should start to see the butter flecks forming, the buttermilk is separating. This is called washing, because you can see through the glass. Before this point you couldn’t see into the jar and the cream was well, umm, err, cream colored.
Now at 7 minutes, it looks like butter and milk. The handle is getting harder to crank at this moment.
Now it is fully separated. At this point, I pour out the buttermilk and add cold water to the butter, just to use the action of the churn to wash the butter a little before I work it.
A few cranks, pour out (this goes in the pig bucket) and repeat.
The second rinsing in the churn, the butter is too hard to force with the paddle. Pour out the water, and transfer to a bowl of cold water.
Here you will work the butter with a paddle, or your hands. You need to continually work the butter to work out all traces of buttermilk. If you don’t, the butter will get rancid in storage. :(
This takes several (many) washings. My rule of thumb is the same as when I’m rinsing my milk jars and buckets. If I think I’m done, I rinse at least one more time.
This is my “one more time” the water is clear, with only a sheen of oil, which is OK. Make sure you use cold water, (not ice water, unless it is the middle of summer) because you don’t want the butter to soften too much and get “greasy.” I know butter is grease, but you will know what I mean when you actually are making it. But it is hard to explain, kinda like what on earth is shaggy dough? Well, when you start making bread,and you get shaggy dough, then it all makes sense!
After the water runs clear, you then work out all the water you can. I add salt to my butter, so I do it at this time, so the working with the paddle will distribute the salt. I’m using Redmond Real Salt, but if a dark speck in your butter tenses you out, use something else. I salt to taste, so the amount is up to you.
I freeze my butter in glass wide mouth pint canning jars, with recycled lids. I date them so I can use the butter in chronological order. I don’t worry about what else is written on the lid, because it is obvious that this butter, not LARD or PEACHES. Butter is a solid mass, so it won’t expand, I fill these to the brim, and don’t worry about expansion.
Why glass? Because my naturopath told me it was safer, I can reuse this container many times, and my friend gave me some brand new, square plastic containers for my butter freezing. And it says right on the label, DO NOT USE WITH HIGH FAT CONTENT FOODS. So I’ll pass on the better living through science, and let someone else be the guinea pig.
I also realize there are a lot of issues out there. Why freeze the butter, it uses electricity. Especially when I could make butter fresh, the entire length of the lactation. But, for me, I would rather do it by hand when it is easy to churn, and store it, than I would churn for an hour or spend the money on an electric churn or mixer. So whether you are hand churning and freezing, or using an electric churn or mixer and not freezing, there is still some energy use involved at some point in the process. This is just our method, each farmstead will be different. I’m not a purist by any means, I love to machine piece my quilts, but I dearly love to hand quilt and embroider, believing a blend of methods is the best way in all aspects of my life. It’s all hard work, but I want to enjoy the journey.