Homemade Butter, Whipped Cream & Buttermilk

It’s early fall and the grass is holding onto its fresh, green, lush sparkle. The cows are still grazing on pasture, absorbing the goodness of the sun and the soil, and turning it into rich, delicious and nutritious milk.  In order to take some of this summery goodness into the darker, snow-covered months ahead, this is a great time to make butter.

Unfortunately, the vast majority (as much as 95%) of supermarket milk, despite the cartons’ enticing scenes of bucolic farmland, comes from cows raised on factory farms (check out this map of those concentrations), many in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) who have never seen a pasture. Click here for a telling photographic comparison of the two.

Factory farm cows are fed a combination of hay (less nutritious than grass) and grains (which cows, being herbivores, are not meant to eat), and the ground they stand on is a blend of dirt and manure. I wouldn’t recommend eating anything (milk, dairy products or meat) from cows with this lifestyle. I like to think that by not supporting these operations, we can close them down.

Pastured cows live a cow-friendly and appropriate life and give you five times more CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which, in early studies, appears to be an effective cancer fighter) and an ideal balance of EFAs (essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6), more beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E than what is found in milk from factory-raised cows. This nutrient bonus comes, in part, from the fact that fresh pasture has more of these nutrients than grain or hay. These extra doses of vitamins are transferred to the cow’s milk.  Skim off the cream, turn it into butter and you can take this goodness with you into the darker, snow-covered days ahead.

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, butter was been the basis of a healthy diet in many traditional communities. Click here if you’d like to read more about that.

If you’ve been tempted by margarine, consider how Joan Gussow, nutritionist and suburban homesteader, characterized this factory food: “I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.”

What you will need to make your own butter:

  • Organic, heavy cream from grass-fed cows (best at around 65˚-70˚)
  • Salt, to taste and/or other herbs and seasonings for added flavor
  • Cold water
  • A butter churn (should you happen to have one) or a medium large jar with well-sealing lid (like a Ball jar)
  • A marble or two
  • A wooden spoon


1. Pour cream into jar.  You need some room to shake, so the cream should not fill the jar much beyond half way.

2. Add a marble or two (when make butter you are bursting open the fat globules in the cream, encouraging those globules to stick together and finally rinsing off the left-over liquid.  Adding a marble increases the physical beating on the fat).  Screw the top on tightly.

3. Shake, shake, shake and then, shake some more. At this stage, my children like to sing, “Shake it, shake it, shake it; Shake it all you can; Shake it like a milkshake, and pass it to a friend.”  If you are doing this with a group of children, have them sit in a circle and fill two or three jars with cream.  Pass the jars around so every one gets plenty of turns without getting tired.

4. Three-quarters of the way there, butter offers a special surprise.  Once you stop hearing the marble knocking around in the jar, you have a jar full of whipped cream. Feel free to stop shaking now.  Add a splash of maple syrup and your berries or pie will have a welcome companion.

5. However, if you can resist the temptation to stop at the whipped cream stage and you shake just a bit more, you’ll notice small chunks begin to form, followed by (after just a little more shaking) a yellow mass surrounded by a whitish liquid.  You’ll hear the marble again and you have butter and buttermilk.

6. Pour the buttermilk into a separate jar.  You can drink it as is, or save it for up to a few days for use in biscuits, pancakes, or salad dressing.

7. Wash the butter, by adding cold water to the butter jar and using a wooden spoon, smear the butter along the sides of the jar through the water.  Pour water off and repeat. You may need to do this 8-10 times before the water runs off clear (or fairly close). Washed butter tastes richer and keeps considerably longer.

8. Add salt to taste as well as any herbs, spices or seasonings you want to use to enhance your freshly made butter.  Today, I added maple syrup and cinnamon to one jar and, salt and chives to another.

9. Should you have a butter mold (to go with your churn), shape butter; otherwise leave it in the shaking jar or transfer into another container and refrigerate. Butter also freezes well.

If you’re not going to bake with your freshly made buttermilk in the next few days, you may want to try Homemade Creme Fraiche or Buttermilk Salad Dressing.  Of course, you can always just drink it straight. If you think you don’t like buttermilk (since you have only tried the store-bought version), make sure you give your homemade batch a taste. It’s an entirely different experience.

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7 thoughts on “Homemade Butter, Whipped Cream & Buttermilk

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