What on earth is cultured butter?
Most of us will be familiar with what happens when you beat store-bought cream too much: it turns yellow and lumpy and leaves a liquid (buttermilk) behind – this is uncultured butter. This is the standard butter (sometimes referred to as sweet butter) that you buy from the shops (at least in this part of the world).
Back in the old days (and now if you live on a farm), milk would be left out overnight to let the cream rise to the top of the milk. Micro-organisms would go to work and the milk would sour a bit giving a tangy, slightly nutty flavour. When the cream was churned to make butter it would keep these flavours.
Now with the use of pasteurisation, there are no micro-organisms remaining in the milk to sour it. So now if you want to recreate that tangy flavour, you need to ferment or culture the cream first. Crème fraîche is cultured cream.
You can make cultured cream by adding a tablespoon (15ml) of buttermilk or plain yoghurt per 250ml of cream and leaving it at room temperature overnight. Alternatively, if you have a cheese making kit you can use 1/8 teaspoon of a mesophilic starter culture per 250ml of cream. Warm cream to 20C, add the starter culture and leave overnight at room temperature.
Using sterilised equipment, mix cultured cream in a blender, food processor or bowl if hand mixing. Mix at low speed until butter forms (it only takes a couple of minutes). You will see clumps of butter and buttermilk separating out as the butter forms. I used a hand mixer so that I could control it and see what was happening but once the buttermilk separated out it splattered all over the kitchen, so I recommend using a covered container.
The Mad Millie Cultured Butter Kit comes with a 1 litre glass jar that you pour the cultured cream into and a stainless steel mixing ball/whisk – so you just shake it up and down until the butter forms which makes much less mess than my first effort.
Pour off the buttermilk and keep it for use in baking or smoothies. It is much thicker and creamier than the whey that comes off when you are making cheese.
Transfer the butter to a bowl and press and fold it using a spoon to release more buttermilk. Pour off the buttermilk as it forms. Add some water to the butter and continue to press and fold. Pour off the water and add fresh water. Repeat 2-3 times until the water is just about clear.
Pour off the final rinse water and continue to kneed the butter using the spoon until it forms a ball. Water will be worked out of the butter as you do this – pour it off as it is released. Add salt if desired and/or herbs or garlic or whatever flavouring you wish to the butter. Wrap the finished butter in cling film or baking paper or place in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
I bought the Mad Millie Butter Kit that includes a French-style butter keeper. For this you press the butter into the cup-shaped container (that is actually the lid); half fill the bottom part with water and then the ‘lid’ containing the butter is inverted into the water. This allows the butter to be kept on the bench for up to a month (replace the water daily). I found that this worked wonderfully while the butter container was quite full but once it got emptier my butter kept falling out into the water; this was still okay but a bit of a hassle to keep scooping it back in when I wanted to use it.
Pats of your own (flavoured) butter can be a great gift. Or wonderful to serve with freshly baked bread or baking when guests come round.