I love golden autumn light. I can’t help but look up into the sky to see the light shine through the trees and watch the migrating birds overhead. This golden glow also finds its way on to our plates and bowls – I can never have enough squash and sweet potato this time of year. For me the golden light is also a cue to transition to the nesting time of year.
And that brings us to butter, a beacon of all that is golden and comforting.
Last month when the skies were particularly golden, I recalled a second grade field trip to Topping Tavern Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont. This museum featured the usual array of colonial tools and farm equipment, but what I remember most was all of us piling into the kitchen where we boisterously took turns churning cream into butter. We then used some of the butter to make huge, flaky biscuits. We topped the warm biscuits with generous slabs of our homemade butter. I have never eaten butter that good. I have enjoyed and baked many biscuits with butter since, but nothing compares to this early experience. That is the thing with moments like these; the connection to a flavor becomes forever connected to a place, it becomes a maxima point, and as much as you try to recreate it the memory is often better.
A few days after this memory, I heard about the butter served at Noma in Copenhagen, and I have a strong feeling that this butter rivals what we made at Topping Tavern. Unfortunately it will be a few years until we travel back to Copenhagen, and I don't want to wait to have tasty butter. So I decided to try to replicate the style, if possible. I know that the terroir would be different, but I wanted to learn more about the process.
Here are my findings: The butter at Noma is described as virgin or almost churned butter. It is slightly sour. It is also not made in house, but in a castle in Sweden, by a man known as the Butter Viking. He is living the dream! You can follow him, and his experiments on Twitter. He set out to find the best methods for making the most flavorful butter. Butter can be made with either sweet cream or sour cream. Sweet cream butter lasts longer, especially if it is rinsed in ice water after it is churned, but nothing rivals the flavor of unrinsed butter made with homemade sour cream. Skipping the rinse preserves the nutty and complex flavors. The cream the Butter Viking uses comes from cows that eat grass. I am sure that most of you know that cows are meant to consume grass, not corn. Wonderful things happen when cows eat grass. The milk, cheese, and butter not only taste better, but are a bit healthier for us. They provide our bodies with bioavailable beta carotene, have balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratios, and most importantly, contain conjugated linoleic acid, a good fat that has potential cancer fighting properties. And the cows’ stomachs will thank you.
Once I learned more about the process to achieve the best flavor, I was ready to make some homemade butter, especially the intriguing almost churned butter. Do you know that making butter is easy? I grew up in a place where the cows outnumbered people. As a child we had a dedicated milk pail at our house that we brought to a neighbor’s farm to fill up with milk/cream. I made a lot of whipped cream in my youth, and was always warned not to whip too much, or else we would end up with butter. See, it is that easy.
I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied with my results if I started with store bought sour cream (plus many products have filler and stabilizers, and that would inhibit the butter making process). So I decided to start with fresh cream, make sour cream, and turn this sour cream into butter. The process is fun, especially if you include your friends or a group of children. Plus, results are so delicious that you will want to make it every week. We sure do.
Let’s get to work.
First make some sour cream.
This will take you five minutes of actual labor and 18 -36 hours of culturing time.
You will need:
A clean quart mason jar with a tight fitting lid
2 cups fresh sweet cream, also known as heavy cream. Ideally, the closer to the source the better. At the very least you will need cream with no fillers or stabilizers, just plain cream. Remember that cows who eat grass produce better cream, plus they were most likely treated better than a feedlot cow. And grass = flavor.
½ cup full fat plain yogurt (real yogurt with live cultures)
Add the heavy cream and yogurt to the mason jar. Put the lid on tightly, and gently shake the jar to combine the ingredients. Remove the lid and cover the jar with a tea towel. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 18 -36 hours or until it becomes very thick and smells a wee bit funky. Give it a stir, have a little taste, and put it in the fridge. You can store the sour cream in the refrigerator for about a week.
Now that we have sour cream, let’s make some butter.
You will need:
Your homemade sour cream brought within range of 46 - 65 degrees Fahrenheit
A mason jar, blender, food processor, or butter churn
Sieve, or mesh strainer
There are many ways to make butter: you can shake it in a mason jar, use a blender, food processor, hand whisk and bowl, Kitchen Aid with whisk attachment (messy!), or a wooden churner. No matter the method, this is a wonderful thing to do at a party, or with your friends and family during the holidays. It is the simplest and tastiest magic trick.
Take the chilled sour cream and leave it out on the counter until it is 46-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shake, blend, process, or churn the sour cream until you have pretty yellow butter solids (it will look like pale yellow lumpy oatmeal).
Set up a strainer lined with a big piece of cheese cloth over a bowl. You will need a big enough piece in order to really squeeze out the buttermilk. Put the butter solids and liquid into the cheesecloth. Strain the solids from the liquid. When it has strained completely, pick up the butter mass in the cheesecloth and squeeze it to extract as much liquid as possible.
The liquid is buttermilk. Save this to make biscuits, scones, or cake. I transferred mine to a mason jar to use later.
Now you have two options: you can rinse the butter in ice water (it will keep longer that way), or you can wrap it in a tea towel to take any residual liquid off. I did not rinse the butter because I didn’t want to rinse away the sour and nutty flavors. I did add some pink salt to the butter at this point, by sprinkling salt over the butter and stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Put your butter in a jar or butter tub, or make a butter log and roll up in parchment paper.
I used the leftover buttermilk to make cloverleaf rolls for Thanksgiving and served them with our homemade cultured butter. Speaking of bread and butter, I need to tell you about Farmor Toast, something that this butter is really meant for.
The Butter Viking eats his butter straight out of the churn, but we really enjoy butter on something we call Farmor Toast. When my in-laws visit we always have lively discussions about food and consume healthy amounts of butter. My mother-in-law is from Denmark, and as a Dane, she truly appreciates butter. She introduced our daughter to the pleasures of warm bread with huge slabs of butter. No it is not just butter on bread, the butter pats are as thick as the bread itself. Extraordinarily simple, but yet, one of the greatest pleasures. Mr. Graham and I like to sprinkle a little Jacobsen flake salt on top.
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!