One of the greatest joys of a small hobby farm is discovering new products to create out of your homegrown bounty. Homemade spaghetti sauce, fresh jams and jellies, and fresh-from-the-field salads are some of the best.
However, two of the simplest products to master are homemade butter and sour cream. And you don’t even need any special equipment.
Select a Milk
Raw milk, or milk that hasn’t been pasteurized or homogenized, produces the best results. However, you can still make great-tasting dairy products at home with pasteurized milk or cream.
If purchasing commercial milk, only use the types that say “pasteurized” rather than “ultra-pasteurized,” as ultra-pasteurized milk often won’t work.
Regardless of which milk you choose, the recipes that follow are adaptable, requiring no specific amount of milk or cream. So even if you only have a quart of whole milk or a single cup of cream to spare, you can easily make one of these products to get a feel for what you like.
Cultured butter is the butter your great-grandparents likely enjoyed and is produced with cream that has fermented, or soured. Its flavor is distinct, ranging from slightly tangy to profoundly sour.
The intensity depends on how ripe the cream is, and it does require a bit of familiarity with your specific cream’s characteristics since various creams ferment at different rates.
When obtaining cream for cultured butter, use only raw cream. Pasteurized cream has lost the ability to ferment and must have cultures added in order to ripen safely (which isn’t covered here).
Sweet butter, on the other hand, has a more modern flavor and can be produced with raw and pasteurized heavy whipping cream. (Again, avoid ultra-pasteurized cream.) Raw cream tends to produce a richer, more vibrant yellow butter than pasteurized and has a much sweeter taste.
However, pasteurized works just fine, resulting in a milder flavor much like store-bought varieties.
Yes, you can still buy a butter churn, but it really isn’t necessary unless you plan to make a lot of butter at one time. Simpler is often better, so opt for a single, quart-sized mason jar for your first go at making butter.
The only other equipment needed is cheesecloth, a clean flour sack towel or a jelly-strainer bag.
- For cultured butter, allow raw cream to sour naturally in the refrigerator. (This may take a week or longer.) Or pour cream into a loosely covered mason jar—no more than 3⁄4 full—and leave in a warm location until it smells slightly soured. As a general rule, the more soured the cream is, the more soured, or tangy, the finished butter will be.
If making sweet butter, whether with raw or pasteurized cream, place the lightly covered jar on a countertop and allow cream to come close to room temperature. Keep in mind that if the cream is left out past the “almost warm” stage, it will begin to sour if the cream is raw or go rancid if using pasteurized cream.
- Place jar lid and band onto jar. Briskly shake, “slamming” cream against the walls. You will notice a change in the cream’s movement as it thickens within 5 to 15 minutes.
- Once you notice clumps of butter forming and the mixture begins to leave the walls, reduce shaking to a moderate level.
- When almost no liquid remains and the jar walls are clear, pour contents into cheesecloth, towel, etc. to drain. Catch the liquid buttermilk in a glass container for later use.
- Using a spoon, move the curds around, pressing out as much buttermilk as possible. Gently rinse with cool water until water remains clear.
- Place in a bowl, and add salt/seasonings—such as garlic powder, oregano, mint or thyme, 1⁄4 teaspoon at a time, to taste—if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator, or freeze for later use.
- Store buttermilk in a glass container in the refrigerator for later use.
Simple Sour Cream
Recipes for milk products vary about as much as the individuals making them. This is certainly true for sour cream. My favorite version readily adapts to the quantity of cream I have on hand and doesn’t require the purchase of a starter culture.
- Place 1 cup or more of fresh, raw cream or pasteurized cream in a sterilized pint jar.
- Add 2 tablespoons cultured sour cream for every 1 cup of cream. Gently stir to combine. The cultured sour cream you use as a starter can be store-bought sour cream as long as the ingredients list only “cultured cream” with no fillers or from a previous homemade batch of sour cream.
- Leave cream at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (The added cultured sour cream allows pasteurized cream to ferment safely.)
- Taste periodically after 12 hours until the cream reaches your desired tanginess. Refrigerate for up to a week.
Sidebar: Buttermilk Extras
Buttermilk is the liquid byproduct of churning cream into butter. With just a little creativity, you can easily incorporate this buttermilk into several types of recipes from pancakes to biscuits to your morning beverage.
- Blend with fruit juices for a tangy twist
- Add to smoothies.
- Use as a dipping liquid for fried chickened and other battered meats.
- Use in place of milk for fluffy pancakes, waffles and biscuits.
- Make treats for hogs, chickens and dogs to feed in small quantities.
- Add to the compost pile.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.