By Eileen Weber
When butter making comes to mind, most of us think of a 19th century butter churn à la Little House On The Prairie. What seems like a daunting task is, in fact, pretty simple. You can have fresh whipped butter at your fingertips. All you need is fresh cream, salt, a food processor, and about 15 minutes of spare time.
For my butter making purposes, however, I wanted to experiment. I stopped off at Whole Foods Market and picked up three different brands of organic cream—Horizon, Organic Valley, and the Whole Foods 365 brand.
I poured in the cream and let the food processor run for about 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll know when it’s time to stop the cycle because the cream solids separate from the remaining liquid and start to look a little granulated. (Reserve the liquid in the base of the processor well—that’s pure buttermilk, my friends. Add it to your pancake batter and make the kids a yummy breakfast.)
Those cream solids are now your butter. Make sure you squeeze out the remaining buttermilk from the solids. Then, place your butter in a mixing bowl. Add one teaspoon of sea salt and blend in. Wrap in parchment paper and plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Chill for at least two hours.
Now, here’s where your preference comes in to play. Some butter making recipes call for rinsing the butter off in cold water before blending with any other ingredients. This is supposed to make the butter less greasy. I did that with one of the butters but not the other two. I found that the rinsed butter did look a little less greasy on the surface than the others, but I don’t think it made a significant difference. Because I was careful to squeeze the butter free of buttermilk, there was less residual moisture making the need for rinsing less of an issue.
Using organic cream was a must. I wanted to do a comparison and didn’t want any extra additives or preservatives to mar the overall taste. My expectation was that there wouldn’t be much of a difference between the brands, but in fact there was.
Each of the butters tasted great. They came to room temperature and spread very easily, even more so than some commercial brands I’ve tried. But one definitely stood out for me. The Organic Valley cream had a sweeter taste than the Horizon or 365. It gave the butter a nice flavor, the kind of butter you’d imagine served in a ramekin at a Paris bistro alongside a freshly baked baguette.
The Organic Valley and the 365 brand separated quicker and easier than the Horizon. There was more of a buttermilk yield with the 365 brand, but oddly enough less butter solid yield than with Organic Valley and Horizon.
But whichever cream you choose, it really comes down to your own taste. Most Americans are accustomed to the sweet cream flavor of butter sold in this country. But the butter made in other countries is often made from cultured cream, essentially cream that has been allowed to ferment a little to give it a nutty tang. (When the cow is milked, the milk would sit around until it was churned. That gave time for lactic acid to take over. That’s what makes European butter taste so much better than many of the brands in the U.S.)
With pasteurization, which is a requirement here, cultured butter can be a more difficult product to find. In many cases, the butter is made from pasteurized cream (called “sweet cream butter”) and cultures are reintroduced to the mixture to give it that distinctive flavor.
But if the idea of plain butter doesn’t float your boat, take it to the next level. Add minced garlic and herbs or citrus zest. Why not raisins, walnuts, brown sugar and a touch of maple syrup? Or, give it a little kick of heat with jalapenos. Making a compound butter is a great way to use leftover ingredients and have a fun condiment to add to meats and fish. Throw a pat on a filet mignon or a salmon steak and your palate will have a party.
For the holidays, compound butter makes a lovely hostess gift instead of grabbing the ubiquitous bottle of wine on your way out the door. Wrap it in butcher’s paper and a little twine. Et voilà!
If you still think making your own butter sounds less fun and more like a chore, there are small-batch artisanal butters readily available. The most local ones come from Vermont Creamery in Websterville, VT and Kate’s Homemade Butter from Old Orchard Beach, ME. They use fresh cream with no additives or growth hormones. You can find both brands at most markets in the area.
If you happen to hit Manhattan for a trip to Saxelby Cheesemongers or Murray’s Cheese, you may come across Animal Farm butter. They are an artisanal, organic, small yield farm in Orwell, VT. Their butter changes in color and taste as the seasons change—the way butter used to be before mass manufacturing. But, it may be difficult to come across as the majority of their butter is used by Thomas Keller at his restaurants French Laundry and Per Se and Barbara Lynch’s Boston restaurant, No. 9 Park.
Whether you make your own butter or purchase an artisanal brand, good butter makes an impact. Spread it on bread fresh from the oven or use it in baking to make flaky pastries. Either way, you’ve got something special that took only minutes to create in your own kitchen.