Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making Butter

It's that time of the year again! Science Fair time!

Just about a month ago, we bought a Jersey cow with a nearby family. The cow stays at their place, yet we take our turn milking every day. I will say it's been great to share the cow as we have built in people to share the work and spoils with each day. I'm sure I'll share more about our adventures with the cow and our super local milk! Today I wanted to share about experimenting with butter as our 8-year-old son decided on doing an experiment on making butter.
Our son has been a "let's make butter" advocate since we started getting milk. I must admit that it was really fun to bring a jar of cream to Thanksgiving and pass it around as we waited for the meal until the buttermilk separated from the butter. I saw awe and shock on the faces of my uncle and male cousin who are over 60 and 30. It's pretty neat to watch the natural process of cream turning into whipped cream and then separating out into the cream colored buttermilk and yellow butter. I know I've "helped" make butter at a couple of events, but used to just always buy butter from the store. I think we all typically buy butter from the store so we forget exactly how those sticks of butter get there from milk.

Our son decided to try two different temperatures for his butter--room temperature and cold from the refrigerator. He measured 1/2 cup each into pint mason jars and replicated the experiment 3 times for each temperature.

Our son found it took about half as much time to make butter by the shaking in a jar method when using room temperature cream than it did using cold cream. Still, the cold cream only took about 5-6 minutes for his half a cup of cream in each trial. It was interesting to see what how he gathered information. Initially, he wondered about warm milk, too. He heated 1/2 cup cream in the microwave for 1 minute and then shook. And shook. Shook some more. Yep, more. Most of this required an oven mitt to protect our hands. At about 20 minutes he finally gave up. Later he read about the melting point of butter and started understanding why it never formed butter--it was too hot! 

Each half cup of cream made about a walnut sized ball of butter. You can see the picture of the butter separating from the liquid below. It is really yellow! It's also a lot harder than store bought butter as there are no additives in it--it's pure, unadulterated butter! After a ball forms, I pour off the buttermilk and run the butter through cool water. This helps firm it up and also helps it last longer. 

So there you have it! If you want to make butter quickly (or with less exertion) from cream, use room temperature butter. My son anecdotally thought the room temperature cream did not yield as much butter as the cold cream did. Sounds like another experiment in the making where we measure the resulting butter! We've thought of other extensions--does the size of the jar matter? What if we have more cream in the jar--does that affect the outcome? We've read about making butter in the mixer, food processor, or Vita-mix. I understand the mixer just makes a huge mess and I think the Vita-mix would be messy. For the amount of cream we usually have (at most a couple of cups to make into butter), I think the shaking process is just right and makes my kids MOVE to get their food!

As my son finished up his poster, he mentioned, maybe we should just have a farm. I thought about how much work that is! I also reflected on a recent article I read on Follow the Flavor, a local food blog, about a farmer in Elkhart that is managing Rise Up Farms. Alex Smith wrote, "Farmer isn’t on the list of “professional” careers (i.e. doctor, lawyer, professor), and lacks the social cachet that those careers carry. When you ask young people what they want to be when they grow up, only a small number will say they want to be farmers, though that number is certainly on the rise. I’m not immune to these considerations of wealth and status, and sometimes they make me doubt what would otherwise be a happy career choice. What if the mainstream folks have it right, and I’m wasting my effort?" 
While my dollar spending doesn't always show it, I appreciate all that local farmers do to add to our local food economy. It's nice to know that our beef came from a couple of miles down the road. Any effort we can  to grow our own food and/or buy local food adds to that local food source. Last month, we went to Kalamazoo to listen to Michael Pollan. What a great talk that help me think of our food choices! We also went to Food Dance before the event--delicious and locally sourced! Here's to local food one shake at a time! I have joked that our cow is doing the foraging for us. :-) 

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