Sheared Bliss

Come, Butter, Come!
March 31, 2010, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Food, History, Museum | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The cheese recipe we used actually calls for aging the farmhouse cheddar for a minimum of a month, but it was pretty good after just two weeks.  On Dairy Day we served samples of the farmhouse cheddar as well as a variety of quick cheeses.

Clockwise from top - Sage Farmhouse Cheddar, Farmhouse Cheddar, Buttermilk Cheese, Lemon Cheese, and Yoghurt Cheese (center).

In addition to the cheese samples we also made and served samples of butter and ice cream.

I didn’t get any pictures of the butter being churned.  I blame the fact that I’ve churned so much butter that I can do it in my sleep and it is therefore no longer exciting to me.

To make butter you need cream.  Historically cows were milked twice a day.  The amount of milk you got at each milking and the fat content of the milk varied by the type of cow, the season, and the cow’s diet.  After milking, the milk would be set aside to separate.  The cream would float up to the top and be skimmed off.  The skimmed milk could be used as a beverage, in baking, or to make cheese.  The cream would be saved up until there was enough to churn.  It was typical to churn once a week.  If you don’t have your own dairy cow, you can buy cream at the grocery store.  You’ll want heavy whipping cream – a quart will yield just under a pound of butter.

Put the cream in your butter churn.  What?  You don’t have a butter churn?  Ok, fine, you can also use a food processor with an s-blade, a stand mixer with a paddle or whisk attachment, a mixing bowl and hand mixer, a jar with a few clean marbles in it, or just about any other contraption that can contain the cream while it’s being beat silly.  Churn (food process, mix, shake, whatever) the cream like crazy.

While you churn, it’s helpful to recite the butter chant:

“Come, butter, come!

Come, butter, come!

Johnny’s at the garden gate,

waiting for a butter cake.

Come, butter, come!”

It should take about twenty minutes to go from cream to butter, but it will depend on the temperature of the cream which should ideally be somewhere around 60º.  As you agitate the cream, the fat molecules will begin to stick together.  The cream will turn from liquid into increasingly stiff whipped cream.  Eventually the fat molecules will stick together so tightly that they will begin to squeeze out the water portion of the cream.  The end result will be lumps of butter floating in buttermilk.

Pour off the butter milk.  You can save it to drink or bake with if you like, but it’s not the same as historic buttermilk or modern, store bought buttermilk.  Since cream was usually saved without the benefit of refrigeration for up to a week before being churned, it was often quite sour by the time it became butter.  Therefore, the buttermilk that resulted from the churning was also sour and contained lactic acid.  This sour buttermilk, when used in baking, would react with the baking soda a recipe to leaven the resulting baked goods.  Modern, store bought buttermilk has been cultured to reproduce this acidic quality.  Your buttermilk made from fresh, store bought cream will not be sour and will need to have an acid (vinegar or lemon juice will do) added to it if you want to use it in a recipe calling for buttermilk.

Ok, while I step off my food-science-geek soapbox, you’ll need to wash your butter.  Yup, wash it.  In cold water please.  Put the butter in a large bowl and pour cold water over it.  Turn and knead the butter with a spoon.  When the water becomes cloudy, pour it off and add more cold water.  The purpose of washing the butter is to remove all of the buttermilk.  Buttermilk goes bad faster than butter so any buttermilk left in your butter would cause it to spoil more quickly.  When the water stays clear, the butter is clean.

After the wash water is poured off, you can salt your butter if you like.  Historically salt was used as a preservative in butter.  We may not need its preservative qualities, but it still tastes good.  Just sprinkle on some salt and mix it in well.  This would also be the time to add in other flavors such as herbs, spices, honey, etc. if you want a compound butter, but that’s another blog post.

Your butter is now ready to store or serve.  For storage, put your butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  To serve, you could of course just plop it in a bowl, but something more decorative would be nice.  Butter molds were used historically to both decorate butter and measure it.  Most butter molds held a pound of butter which was useful both for farm wives making butter for their own use and for people producing butter for sale.  The decorative designs not only looked nice on the table, but also served as a brand to identify the producer of the butter.  If you don’t have a butter mold handy, you can always shape it into a log by rolling it up in waxed paper or make butter balls using a melon baller (or your hands if they’re freakishly cold like mine).

Mmmm . . . buttery goodness.

Stay tuned for ice cream!

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