Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Making Sweet Cream Dexter Butter

Yesterday I had the excitement of churning and tasting my own home-made sweet cream Dexter butter from our cow Siobhan.  Don't ask me why, but I had the idea of churning butter and baking bread at the same time I was turning out all my kitchen cabinets, cleaning them and rearranging everything to free up a cabinet dedicated to milking and cheese-making supplies.  Needless to say, I was too tired at the end of the day to post a photo-tutorial!  But today is another day, so here it is . . .

Saturday's milking was a bit shy of 2 quarts, so there was plenty of cream.  (Dexter milk tends not to separate as readily as the milk of other breeds, so once the cream rises and is skimmed, Siobhan's milk is still quite rich because of all the cream left in it.)
Here's my low-tech cream skimmer: a stainless steel baster and a quart jar which was sterilized in the dishwasher and stored with the lid on.
I angled the baster into the jar, peering in through the top or looking through the side to be sure I had barely inserted the tip of the baster into the layer of cream.

I squirted the cream into the jar.
This shows the tip of the baster I inserted into the cream.

I didn't try to get every last drop of cream because I was afraid I'd end up going through the shrinking layer of cream into the milk.

Before putting the milk back in the fridge, I shook it to mix in all the nice cream that was left clinging to the bottle.
Next I got out a pint of cream that I had separated a couple days ago.
It was lovely to open the lid and see all that nice, thick cream on it.

With the older pint added to the fresh batch of cream, I had nearly a quart.

The butter-making method that I used comes from Keeping a Family Cow, by Joann S. Grohman.  (According to Amazon, Joann still milks her family cow every day . . . at age 85!  May I be as lucky as Joanne!)

On page 65, Joann says, "The final addition of cream should be stirred together with the rest and the whole lot left to get acquainted for two to four hours before churning. Omitting this step will make the cream difficult to churn and leave some of the cream behind in the buttermilk."

So I set my jar of cream on the windowsill to let it get acquainted with itself and to warm up.
"Cream takes about twenty minutes to churn, sometimes longer if too cold. . . .  It churns better and faster at near sixty-four degrees."  page 65 
After an hour and a half, the jar of cream still felt cold to my touch, so I put it in a bucket of hot water for half an hour.  I didn't check it with a thermometer, but it definitely felt warm by the end of the two-hour waiting period.
The equipment I used to follow Joann's favorite butter churning method was:

  • my food processor fitted with the plastic dough blade
  • cheese salt
  • a quart of cream
  • a bowl
  • a colander lined with cheesecloth 

This is the plastic dough blade she recommends.

One final ingredient was a pitcher of ice cold water for washing the butter.
I poured the cream into the food processor.  (Please excuse the quality of the photos as I was trying to pour with my left hand while aiming the camera and shooting with my right hand.  As you can see by the dribbles on the food processor, I can't look at two things at the same time!)

I checked the time as I started the food processor, 3:29.

After only a couple seconds I learned something the hard way--I should have made sure I clicked the food processor all the way shut!  I hadn't, so I had to mop up a puddle of cream off the counter.

According to Joann, there are several factors that can affect churning time.  Cream churns more slowly in late winter than in June, when it might only take three minutes.  Cream can also be slower to churn from a cow in late lactation; Siobhan is in her eighth month of her first lactation.  And a rare cow may give cream that is resistant to churning.
"After about ten to twenty minutes (except with a food processor which is much faster) little yellow [Joann has a Jersey] flecks should appear.  You will note that the sound of the churning changes as the butter breaks.  When these lumps are about the size of bird shot or no bigger than a pea, stop churning . . ." page 66 
This photo was taken at 3:30, after only a minute.  I did not consider these white (Dexter-colored) flecks to be the size of bird shot yet, so I kept the food processor going.

By 3:39, after ten minutes of processing, I could tell the flecks were bigger and more numerous, so I decided to take a peek.

I was surprised to see how much butter was actually in the food processor.  It certainly wasn't visible without peeking inside!

My first butter!  You better believe I looked at it from every angle!

I used a spatula to clean every bit of butter out of the food processor parts and shook it back with the rest.  As I began to pour it out I could see even more butter hidden under the buttermilk.
I used a piece of cheesecloth from my New England Cheesemaking kit, draped in a metal colander that gets cleaned in the dishwasher.

That's butter in the cheesecloth and buttermilk in the bowl.

Of course I had to peek at my butter!

Joann suggests pouring the buttermilk into something else and using the same bowl for washing the butter.  However, I wanted to photograph the decreasing "milkiness" of the successive wash waters so I got out a clear bowl and poured the ice water over the butter through the colander and into the bowl.

This was what the wash water looked like the first time.

I used the entire two quarts of wash water, then held the "hammock" of butter under the faucet, running cold water directly over it until the wash water was almost perfectly clear.  Joann says the wash water must be colder than 60°, preferably 45° or 50°, or the butter will become too soft to work.  Since it's winter, the water from the faucet was plenty cold.

Next I added the salt.  Joanne calls for 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of butter.  My butter weighed 4 ounces, so I added 1/4 teaspoon.

"Press the butter thoroughly by folding and pressing, never smearing, which will develop a greasy consistency rather than the waxy consistency characteristic of nice butter.  Keep going until water is no longer being squeezed out.  All the buttermilk and water must be out if the butter is to keep well." page 67 
This part was really fun.  The butter looks like a lump of yeast dough, but the technique is just the opposite.  While thumping and kneading yeast dough helps it rise, I needed (pun intended) to treat my butter much more gently!

I periodically wiped the liquid away with a paper towel so I could tell when no more was being expelled.  I also held my hands under cold running water to chill them when the butter began to warm up, as evidenced by bits of it sticking to the board.  Next time I'll stick my board in the freezer before I start churning the butter.

The final step was to form the butter into a ball and put it in the refrigerator.

I covered it and put it next to the buttermilk.  I was curious to taste the buttermilk, which tasted very rich to me.  I think that two hours wasn't long enough for my two batches of cream to "get acquainted," so a fair amount of cream seems to have been left behind in the buttermilk, as Joanne warned.

But I was delighted with my first attempt at making butter!  Where would be the fun in future attempts if I did everything perfectly the first time?  Next time I'll "ripen" the cream by inoculating it with a mesophilic or sour cream starter.  This gives the butter an interesting flavor and makes the churning go faster.  I'll let my batches of cream go beyond "getting acquainted" to being married, and hopefully I'll get more butter.
Once I'd made the butter, I realized we needed some hot homemade bread to eat it on, so I broke out the bread machine.  Later that evening when the bread machine beeped that the loaf was done, we wasted no time at all slicing it and putting on a pat of homemade sweet cream butter.

Thank you, sweet Siobhan!


  1. Thank you very much for sharing this useful information. I was doing a project and for that I was looking for related information. Some of the points are very useful. Do share some more material if you have.

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. You can search this blog using the labels "Recipes," "How-To," and "Milking a Dexter" or use the search box to search for "cheese" and "yogurt."

  2. I absolutely love your posts!!! When I finally do start milking one of our cows, this will definitely come in handy. I got the "Keeping A Family Cow" book for Christmas and love it too. Keep up the wonderful work!

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Fran! It means a lot!

  3. Lovely! And on the first try! I'm sure you will get butter and butter! lol I love the author's words--and word picture--of the cream getting acquainted. Enjoy! Barbara

    1. You are too hysterical, Barbara! Thank you for the title of my post next time I make butter: "Getting Butter and Butter!" :)


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