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Very Basic Buttermaking

Sima's picture

A while back Lambert asked me to contribute a series on butter and cheese making. I got distracted with real life (PhD finshing) and so put it off for a bit, but decided this rainy morning was a good time to start. My favorite doe, Miss Mack, gave birth to 3 doelings late last night, and I'm still up from the excitement of that. For about the first 10 or 12 hours after they are born, I have to check on them every 90 minutes or so. Can't help myself. They are cuteness personified. Anyway...

First, some of my credentials for butter and cheesemaking. I run a very small goat dairy, populated by very small goats (Nigerian Dwarves), in WA state. I have been making cheese and butter for about 5 years now. I've taken several classes, some taught by world famous 'artisanal' cheesemakers. I do not, currently, sell my cheeses because that would be illegal. I do barter however.

Buttermaking Basics:

The most minimal equipment needed to make butter:
very clean mason jar with lid
clean low-sided bowl and spoon
fresh cold water

Ingredients for Butter:
cream: You can buy heavy whipping cream (which will have been ultra-pasteurized) from the super market for this. If you can get cream straight from the cow/goat/sheep/buffalo/horse/camel more power to you. You can also get creamtop milk in some places. This is pasteurized but not homogenized. You can then skim off the cream to make butter and use the milk to make cheese.
buttermilk: This will provide more flavor, like European butter. It'll also allow the butter to age, and get more flavorful over time. Get the cultured kind, the kind with live culture.
salt: Use non-iodine salt. This is generally pickling or kosher salt. Iodine will kill all the little beasties that make the flavor.

Put the cream into your mason jar.

Let the cream sit out for at least several hours, or even a day, at room temperature, about 65-70 F. When you set it out to sit, add in a bit of buttermilk if you want to culture in some extra flavor. Ultra pasteurized cream will not have any flavor without the buttermilk. Generally I'd add about 1 Tbls of buttermilk to each cup or pint of cream. If you are using raw cream you don't need the buttermilk.

The sitting out is important, because this allows the beasties in the buttermilk (or raw milk) to grow and sour the cream some. This is what gives some flavor. If you are using straight pasteurized cream, sitting out will not be important since there's nothing to grow, but do let it get to room temp or a bit below, as temperature is important for the coagulating of the cream.

Once the sitting time is over (I tell by sniffing. It still smells like fresh cream but there's something else there too) start shaking the mason jar. Have the lid screwed down tight. I use plastic lids that you can buy to replace the two piece canning lids that usually go on the jar. Anyway, shake. Hand it to your partner and have them shake it. Kids can shake, everyone can shake. Shake.

If the cream was cultured really well the butter will come quite quickly, sometimes within minutes (with the raw milk cream from my goats). Sometimes it'll take longer. Your arms might hurt a bit :). Suddenly while shaking you'll notice the cream moves different in the jar. It seems like it's coating the sides, thickly. Then just as suddenly the cream will be gone, and there will be a big lump of butter, careening around in the jar in a small amount of buttermilk. It'll thump and stick to the sides. Shake it a few more times and then drain off the buttermilk (save it, use it in cooking bisquits, pancakes, making bread, soups, stews, or starting cheese!).

Put the lump of butter into your clean low-sided bowl. I use a blue enamelled bowl, so I can easily see colors and clarity. Using fresh very cold water (if your water is chlorinated I might think of using bottled water) wash the butter. Basically, pour some water into the bowl and using the spoon knead and mash the butter back and forth. The water will instantly become whitish. Pour it off, and add more water. Knead and mash some more. Keep repeating this process until the water is clear. This process gets out the buttermilk which'll cause the butter to sour and turn rancid over time.

Once the water runs clear pour it off and knead the butter a bit more. You'll notice it's getting stiffer as you do this. Try and get all the water out. Then add a pinch or two of salt (if you want your butter salted). You can taste it a bit to see how salty you want it, if at all. It'll last longer with the salt.

You can use it right away, or put it into a sealed container in the fridge, or freeze it. If you used raw milk cream or added buttermilk to get some culture the butter will continue to age in the fridge and eventually turn into a very very high fat cheese like product.

You can do away with the shaking by using a kitchenaid or other kind of mixer. However, I've found that this process is not as easy as the jar, and it's too easy to let it get past the butter stage and ruin it. On the other hand, you sure do save your arm muscles.

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Submitted by lambert on

Off the grid. Cool. And soon we'll be able to have cheese with our wine.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sima's picture
Submitted by Sima on

I think I could probably have most every meal of the week made by someone else in return for the cheeses. Right now I barter them for things like goat sitting when I have to leave town, special baking, work around the farm, things like that. I simply can't afford to start up a real cheesemaking facility yet. I'd need a whole 'nother kitchen!

Submitted by lambert on

Since I'm lazy, and that's what avoids a whole lotta shaking, how do I culture the cream "really well"?

Probably I'll have to use pasteurized, so buttermilk?

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Submitted by lambert on

1. Even at the State and local level, there are regulations regarding food preparation that require some basic technologies (the phrase "stainless steel") comes to mind.

2. If you make your own cheese, you might stop buying Kraft processed cheese at the supermarket. That's clearly an infection that has to be stopped from spreading, because otherwise: (1) people might barter with their neighbors, off the grid and untraceably, (2) processed cheese sales would go down, (3) plastic wrap sales would go down, (4) supermarket sales of bad food would go down, (5) people might not use as much gasoline going to the supermarket, (6) people wouldn't need to buy new cars as often, and (7) the waste stream wouldn't be contaminated with plastic wrap, other petroleum by-products, and everything that cars bring. Even worse, (8) people might develop a taste for good food, instead of corporate food, and the whole thing could mushroom.

Best to try to nip it all in the bud, now...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

a license to sell -- regular inspections of facilities, etc.

this is why, in the 1970s and 1980s after moving back to Texas, our family farm produced for ourselves and for gifts or barter -- i.e. five pounds of homemade butter and a couple dozen fresh eggs to the farrier, in exchange for his trimming the horse's hoofs (they went barefoot, as we lived in sandy country and they were nearly never on pavement).

no records, no taxation, no cash required.

damned subversive behavior, in the eyes of The IRS.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0


We can admit that we’re killers … but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

1 John 4:18

Submitted by lambert on

I don't have a significant other or kids to do the shaking. Is there another solution than personally shaking it? I don't like the idea of using a mixer, because I think slower is probably better. Some solutions here....

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

for almost nothing some places. Ebay has them, for example.

If you don't mind furnishing your own pickle jar as a churn base (the Dazey lids are too big for mayo jars) you can probably find one with a busted jar or no jar at all for under $50 including shipping.
or you could try this advice I found at the waltonfeed.com site:
as told by Montey Rasmussen (born 1951)

We put our fresh, unpasteurized, raw cream straight from the refrigerator into our Bosch bread mixer, attach the wire whip, and turn it on. The mixer first turns it into whip cream then after a couple of minutes it rather abruptly separates into butter and buttermilk. For the last minute or so I have to hold the lid down tight on the mixer as buttermilk is flying everywhere. It takes about 5 minutes to do this.

With this type of high speed mixer it isn't necessary to let the cream sour. I think the fresh cream makes much better butter. After I turn off the mixer and take off the lid, I pour most of the buttermilk out of the side of the bowl and collect the butter. The majority of the butter is wrapped up in the wire whips that I flip out.

We get the buttermilk out of the butter and wash it much like the instructions above for the old time recipe. However, as I work the butter I try to keep it as cool as I can as working the butter when it is too warm will mess things up. I've even put ice cubes in the water to cool things off without damaging the butter. When our butter is finished, we put it in a margarine container and put it in the refrigerator.

This is similar to a thing my mom did, very rarely, with a Sunbeam stand mixer and covered bowl to make fresh butter for baking with -- 'sweet unsalted' would be the reference available commercially.

This butter makes the most amazing doughnuts, pie crusts, and german chocolate cakes.


We can admit that we’re killers … but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

1 John 4:18

Sima's picture
Submitted by Sima on

Yes, we can't sell it because we need a license. Home grown raw products are dangerous! Must be controlled! Must be hounded out of business! At least, that's how it feels sometimes. Lambert's got the skinny on that in the reply above.

Anyway, WA state has at least set up a program to allow small timers like me to get Grade A milking licenses, for hand milking! Yay! I haven't had time to jump through the hoops and build the necessary buildings yet though. And that's just to be able to sell the milk. To make cheese you need a Grade A kitchen, or something similiar (once again, they are trying to make allowances for the small timers).

Dazey churns are nice. We don't have one (yet) because I make butter in very small quantities. What I do is freeze the milk straight from the goat. When I have enough to make cheese (usually once or twice a week in season) I defrost it. The freezing helps separate the cream out in goat's milk. It doesn't separate easily like cow's milk does(More on that in a later post). Anyway, I skim off the cream and make butter. Then I make soft cheese and a hard cheese. A day later I make ricotta from the whey of the hard cheese. So I get 4 products for 1 day and a half's work!

To culture the cream use the buttermilk. Remember to get live culture buttermilk, not the killed kind flavored with vinegar or whatever. You can also buy butter cultures at cheesemaking supply places. I will talk about those in my next post in this series.

Sarah, I have some acquaintances that run goat dairies in Texas. I understand it's hard to get into the business right now, but the laws are slowly changing to allow the small timers at least a chance. I'm all for barter though!

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and that right there was enough for the state equivalent of the USDA to go, "no way".

Since we never had more than two cows 'in milk' at one time, Missouri in the 1960s didn't care if we sold cream, butter, etc. so long as it wasn't sold commercially. This scene, though it wasn't, could've been shot on our Missouri farm in my childhood:

black Angus are a beef breed.

like anything else, if you handle them with kindness, they become quite amiable. It's shocking how much milk they give, considering they're not supposed to be big milkers.

my dad was a big fan of letting a cow run "dry" when her calf was about six months old; she usually wouldn't "find" another calf for four to five months. In order to keep milk available all year, we'd have three cows; we rarely had to milk more than two or fewer than one at a time.

I know nothing of goats; my sister's pair were pets, and she took them away when she married. But based on this, artisanal (also known as small-operation) cheesemaking is gaining ground in the Metroplex, anyway.

I remember milking; we bought Kendall filters and stainless cones/strainers, milked in stainless buckets, strained the milk into sterilized (yes, freshly-boiled!) crock jars, and immediately refrigerated the milk (in a separate refrigerator from the one where we kept our kitchen goods. Later, we added a 3rd second-hand fridge for eggs and dressed chickens). Twelve hours later it would be skimmed; the cream would go into the churn, and 12 hours after that we'd have butter. It's a little like clockwork.

Jerseys give enormous quantities of milk that is very nearly the color of butter, and the cream that rises on it is thick, like old-fashioned shaving-soap brush-worked lather. Angus give rich milk too, although not as much as Jerseys. (The upside to this is that Angus cattle can go two to four hours longer between milking without risk of mastitis; Jerseys, Guernseys, and especially Holsteins cannot -- and all this is from the days before BGH and 'enhanced production'.) I have never been fond of electrical milkers -- when I was younger, I saw and heard about too many cases of "ruined udders" resulting from these machines' use.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0


We can admit that we’re killers … but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

1 John 4:18

Submitted by xan (not verified) on

per goat?

I have just under an acre, probably 1/2 acre once you subtract the footprint of the house, driveway, yard pond, trees (I got a lotta trees. Big ones) and such. This is in west Tennessee so we are not talking desert. How many goats could you run on half an acre? (Much as I would kill to have a Jersey cow I know this is not enough land.)

If somebody would send me about, I dunno, 5 or 10 grand, I would make them a deal: I will spend their money on the following: good secure fencing to keep goats in and coyotes etc. out; enough PV solar panels to take me off the grid even supplying air conditioning in a TN summer, plus keep the well pump running; and build a nice small chicken habitat.

In exchange for the funding the donor is allowed to come and live with us in the event of Social Collapse. All they have to do is get here from wherever they are and they will have a room and be guaranteed that we can all have enough to eat until things get restored to order.

Submitted by lambert on

But does that acreage really guarantee a food supply?

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

out miniature Jersey cows (aka yard cows.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0


We can admit that we’re killers … but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

1 John 4:18

Submitted by xan (not verified) on

I checked the one at the top of your Google list and while the concept of "miniature Jersey cows" is mindboggling, they don't have any for sale. This clearly does none of us any good.

If you know of a yard-cow purveyor who actually has enough to let go of some, it would be nice. Not that I can afford one mind you, but the concept is fantastic. Like pot-bellied pigs, but actually useful. :)

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Because when Social Collapse occurs, you'll need some down-home off-the-grid entertainment.

Submitted by xan (not verified) on

But does that acreage really guarantee a food supply?

The answer being, "beats the hell out of me and I hope I never have to really find out." More on the subject tomorrow if chance presents itself, on account of right now it is late and I iz sloshed. bbl.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

we had a couple when i was young. won't ever do that again! et the shit out of our property and all our pretty stuff; we even had a huge expanse of acreage that the goat ignored in favor of our cultivars. i'm sure there is a way to raise them in harmony with their nature and a reasonable budget, but i don't know it.

chickens, rabbits, fish. small animals that require small amounts of feed. milk and cheese are great, but i'll trade for them. i'm semi-urban and it makes little sense for me to devote that growing space just so i can have luxury foods.

and i am not being critical of people who raise larger animals, goodness no. this is where the fun is, and how we make friends. i'll be starting the herb plot this year, and hopefully sima will need some poisons or natural medicines i can trade for some of that cheese and butter.

Sima's picture
Submitted by Sima on

Nigerian Dwarf goats on a little over 1/4 acre. Their enclosures are green, full of grass, and healthy. To get an idea of size, our full-grown does weigh about 40-60 pounds. The bucks weigh a bit more. A normal sized doe can weigh 120-c 200 pounds. The normal sized bucks can weigh up to 350.

Like CD says, goats prefer browse (ie your garden). They prefer your garden plants, not grass. We let ours eat brambles and scrub and they do a great job of keeping that down. Otherwise, they like hay better than green grass and ours eat hay as well as browse. Contrary to popular opinion goats do not eat just anything (including tin cans). They are pretty particular. They will taste just about anything though, which can lead to trouble. Goats do not do well tied out (what animal does?) and need humane fencing. We use that plastic fencing that you see in road works and a few stakes to make portable fences for ours.

Some herds of goats do subsist on mostly grass. It depends on the goat, the location, and all kinds of things. I know people in MS and TN who graze their goats. Up here in the NW, they don't graze. Dunno why.

Xan, you can grow just about every vegetable you need on about 1/8 acre or less, including beans to dry for winter, dried peas, etc. However, you can't grow things like flour. Sugar you can get from beets, so you can grow that. And what varieties of vegetables you can grow will depend greatly upon location. Seasonal eating, and all that.

Our next animal acquisition will be a couple of beef steers and chickens. Eventually I want to get a milk cow, but not until I've got some kind of license to sell milk or cheese. We use all the waste from the goats (and eventually cows and chickens) on our fields. Goat manure makes great fertilizer.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm in the same position, and I'm going to start planting in about a month, amazing as that may seem.

In fact, I might want to start some stuff indoors.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

right now i'm just getting the seed sets going, i have to move a lot of crap around to make a place for them as i'm limited in light/space. sigh. i will have that greenhouse soon, for now i guess i'll have to stick to these trays and racks and whatnot.

and frankly, i'm still researching which would be best. i honestly think there's potential for medicinals and poisons. i probably shouldn't talk about the latter, but any plant encyclopedia will tell you want plants make what oil or tincture in traditional medicines. the nice thing about today is the way you can easily draw upon plant traditions from dozens of cultures, we don't have to stay within one in particular.

for people like us, the question will be: how to balance limited growing space, labor/care, regional weather, as well as market preferences, while maximizing production? there will be some plants that are less obvious but better choices, if the goal is maximizing value in barter and trade.

Submitted by lambert on

... I ought to be growing beans and herbs.

I've got an 1/8th of an acre, but sun is partial for about 2/3 of it.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Sima's picture
Submitted by Sima on

... what crops to grow. Corn, for instance, is always a winner in that people really desire it and it can bring them into the market stand.

BUT... it's not that easy to grow, has huge demands for nutrients, is pretty picky about location and, frankly, it's nearly impossible to make a profit with it. This is because people expect 8 ears for a dollar; rock bottom 'farm' prices. I can't grow it for that. So I grow corn for myself and when people ask why they can't have it, I explain what I just said above. They won't pay for it!

Lettuce. Believe it or not, that's one of the easiest to grow and makes the most money. People will pay the equivalent of 14$ a pound for lettuce. It's easy to grow, you can do repeat crops (within reason) on the same stretch of ground, it doesn't need 100% sunshine...

Potatos. Easy to grow, great for breaking up harsh weedy ground, but they do require work through the season. If you grow varieties other than Idaho bakers you can get good prices for them.

I can go on, but I think we need a new post for this :)

Submitted by lambert on

Now that's interesting.

Seems like there's two things going on: Bulk for me, and specialty (herbs, lettuce) for barter or sale.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi