I really love butter. Over the past few years I have come to appreciate huge differences in the quality and taste of butter. Butter varies in color from a golden-yellow to pale white, mostly from the diet of the animal’s milk from which the cream has been skimmed. The yellowest butter occurs because the cow/goat has eaten very fresh grass and yellow or orange vegetables such as carrots, whereas the whitest butter is often the product of a winter hay-based diet.
I have gone on chocolate tasting binges, wine tasting binges, and olive oil binges, but one of my favorites in the last year was butter tasting. I purchased a slew of European butters, several from here in the Bay Area, one from Oregon, and a Vermont lightly salted cultured butter. My two favorites were actually the Kerry Gold Irish butter, which I could not believe since it is imported and the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery’s cultured butter. Both are phenomenal.
Neither, however, is as delicious (or thrifty) as homemade cultured butter.
Before you call me crazy and ask how one butter could taste different from another, taste different creams. If you have not already jumped camp to organic cream, try that first. Purchase your run of the mill ultra-pasturized (if it will last over a month it is probably ultra-pasturized) heavy whipping cream and use that in your soup, whipped cream, oatmeal, etc. Then compare it with the very best organic cream (not ultra-pasturized) that you can get your hands on. If you are not pregnant or feeding it to a little baby, try to get organic raw cream. You will notice an incredible difference in sweetness and a full flavor that is similar to comparing boxed wine with a nice bottle that you spent more than five bucks on.
Add a little tangy culture and you have entered a whole different (mouth-watering) playing field.
As with making homemade yogurt, something else I do every other week, making cultured butter is as simple as adding some dairy with live cultures (creme fraiche, yogurt, buttermilk) to fresh dairy (cream in this case) and letting them grow slowly in a warm environment. When finished, one simply whisks the cream past whipped cream stage until the butterfat breaks away from the buttermilk. On that note, the delicious by-product of cultured butter is homemade cultured buttermilk that one can use too. After pouring off the buttermilk, one molds the butter together in ice water and then rinses it in fresh cold water, repeating back and forth four or five times until the water runs clear of buttermilk, which would cause the butter to spoil prematurely.
The fun part is deciding what salt to add to your butter and how to mold it. Creative ice molds and tiny ramekins look creative or a round, homey log of butter allows you to slice off perfect little rounds of your own butter.
And how cool would it be to add your homemade salt to your homemade butter? These instructions look like a lot of fun, especially given how much Maldon, fleur de sel, and other various pricey sea salts we go through over here.
If you plan on making a large batch with a windfall of splendid heavy cream, I highly recommend baking with it in your favorite butter-based pastry (pie dough, cookies, galette, brioche, etc.). Every couple of months I make croissants and I am itching to try using my tangy, cultured homemade butter since the quality of the butter makes a tremendous difference in croissant pastry.
Homemade Cultured Butter
1 pint organic heavy whipping cream, the best you can find
2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche, yogurt, or buttermilk
Sea salt (optional)
In an impeccably clean glass bowl whisk together the cream and the creme fraiche (or yogurt or buttermilk) and cover with plastic wrap only if you are in a really arid climate. Set in a warm place (70-80 F or 21-26 C degrees) for 8 to 18 hours. The longer you leave it, the stronger flavor it will have. Depending upon what culture you use and how warm the temperature is, this will vary from cheesy to tangy. With creme fraiche I leave it around 8-12 hours.
Once a layer of thickened cream appears on the top you will know that things are progressing nicely. In a mixer, whisk the cultured cream on high past the point of whipped cream. The cream with now begin to resemble butter as pieces clump together and the buttermilk separates from the fat. Turn the speed down to low and let it go another minute, being cautious of splashing buttermilk. With a clean fork, press the butterfat together and pour off the buttermilk into a clean container to refrigerate for another use.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Dip very clean hands into the ice water and then quickly press the butter together and dip the ball of butter into the ice water for a few moments. Massage it and then rinse it in freshly running cold water. Repeat several times until the butter is clear of any left over buttermilk.
If using a special salt, add it now and then shape the butter however you would like. Refrigerate until ready to eat.