Many years ago, while studying at university, I spent my summers working on an organic fruit farm with dairy aspirations. Along with a handful of cows, the farm also had several dogs, chickens, ducks, and an ailing cat named Percy. Percy had a peculiar affliction–one that I hadn’t seen before. Upon drinking store-bought, pasteurized milk, the cat would lick the dish clean and then later, throw up. When fed farm-raised, unpasteurized milk, he was as happy as a clam.
“There are probably enzymes in the farm milk that help with digestion,” his owner hypothesized one day over lunch. She aimed to feed him fresh milk whenever it was available.
Years later, when I had the opportunity to get fresh milk from a cow, I remembered this exchange. Granted, human digestive systems aren’t the same as feline ones, but the experience still had me thinking. And who doesn’t love to milk a cow when the opportunity presents itself? (Until you’ve done so and dropped your bucket, you may never really understand the phrase, “there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”)
These days our cream has been extra thick–and that means we made butter for the first time in many months. Although butter-making is fairly straight forward, there are a few things we’ve learned along the way that help make it more successful.
1) Start with thick cream. If you have your own fresh milk, that means the top layer of cream that floats on the surface. It’s important not to scoop all the cream from the milk–you only want the thickest. If you don’t have access to fresh milk, you can buy whipping cream for this purpose (though that is more expensive than butter, so maybe you really do need a cow).
2) Bring your cream to room temperature before you start churning.
3) After you have agitated the cream in a churn or food processor enough to transform it into butter, (see this article in the Guardian for more detailed buttermaking instruction), transfer the butter to a sieve or colander and drain off the buttermilk.
4) Wash the butter with cold water (kneading a little to release the buttermilk). When the water runs clear, your butter is ready to eat. (Most people add salt at this stage. You can also add herbs and spices if you are feeling adventurous.)
The byproduct of this activity is buttermilk, of course; buttermilk and happy children.
We also continued our yogurt-making, which is what we usually do with most of our milk. Our gear consists of the following high-tech equipment: two quart jars with screw-top rings, a cooking thermometer, and a bench stuffed with pillows (our instant, thermal yogurt-maker). I heat my milk to near boiling when making yogurt. Although this kills the enzymes, (Percy would be aghast) I have found it’s also a no-fail way to achieve thick yogurt everytime.
Of course, every once in a while our adventures in making yogurt go awry. This usually happens when I’m too impatient to wait for the milk to cool down before I add the culture. In that case, I will often end up with paneer, which is quite tasty in its own right. (If you’d like to make paneer on purpose, here’s a great recipe, courtesy of my sister.)
All these incredible foods from one raw material–it’s enough to make even a cow smile.