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Churn Baby, Churn! - Butter and Cheese at Home

There is a lot of debate, suspicion, controversy and, in general, lack of trustworthy information, about raw milk. There are obviously several players on different sides of the argument, all with their own piece of interest and point of view. Much like any animal product (or plant for that matter), there is always a percentage of population that are allergic or intolerant to something in the product. Dairy, whether raw or processed is no exception. We simply do not fully understand the composite chemistry of milk or how it reacts with the human system to have a sufficiently convincing argument either way. So, most of us resort to the safest course that we can think of, and, shy away from anything that seemingly did not get torched in the process of killing anything potential harmful. Even, if it comes at the price of losing the positive things as well. It is a choice each of us chooses or not.

If you are not a raw milk proponent, I am not going to attempt to convince you otherwise. If you are a raw milk addict, this is no sisterhood post. I love raw milk. That is my choice. And, mine alone. 

I am comfortable making that choice because I grew up drinking raw milk,  milked fresh from cows walking distance from my house. It was boiled at home to kill the harmful bacteria. Later, I got used to pasteurised, packaged one but that never had enough cream as the fresh milk. When I moved to the US, I drank what was most common and cheap, the ultra-pasteurized version. I put a lot of faith in the commercial process and it carried the additional benefit of drinking straight from the carton; no boiling, meaning less effort. Sweet! Except, soon I started developing intolerance to it. I still don't know why, but, since this was combined with a lower intake of cultured milk products, like yogurt, I suspect, it was the reduced availability of probiotic bacteria.

Anyway, I switched to almond milk and was rather happy, especially, when I started making my own. Then I moved to Brooklyn, and as part of my acclimatization to the 'hood, I fell in with a raw milk supplier here. It was an experiment. Two years since, it has become a necessary part of my life! 

No, my intolerance has not been cured, but, I am better. More important, is that the milk tastes so much better and the cheese I make from it so much richer and flavorful.  But, the most precious part of having full fat (6.3%) raw milk is the fresh salted cultured butter I can harvest. I have literally stopped buying butter from the store!!

As to the economics, it is a sweet deal any way you look at it. A gallon of this rich, Holstein milk costs me $10. I can make nearly 1 pint of butter, 2 quarts of yogurt, a pint of fresh cheese and still have milk leftover for a few breakfasts. And, then there is the whey and buttermilk that are fantastic for baking, bread making, and, general cooking! That is perhaps the most $10 can ever be stretched.....

The churning of cream into butter is an ancient technique. You can use a vintage wooden churner and relish being splattered by the buttermilk and the bristling biceps. Or, you can do the hipster jar shake-shake-shake it off routine. I find, the easiest (biceps are soo overrated!) and most dependable way of churning is to use a food processor. The only important note here is to use the lowest setting on the processor. High speed blenders simply do not; they keep emulsifying the fat into the whey rather than separating them.

I cannot express how therapeutic and wondrous it is to see the metamorphosis of cream to butter. The transformation from the thick cream to the thicker and whipped state, finally weaning off into a runny buttermilk and stick butter. Priceless. A true Mastercard moment!

There is something else I have to say about making butter this way. It is best to let the cream ripen a little before churning it. That means, letting the bacteria have a wee party in the cream for a 3-4 days in the fridge. This resting period is what makes the healthy, good for you and rich yellow cultured butter. Although, it is easy to be warned away by the mention of the bacteria, the cultures that remain after the boiling phase (I always boil, meaning home pasterize, my raw milk before any consumption) are the probiotic ones and are needed to maintain a healthy gut. These are the same that help the fermentation into yogurt.

Then there is cheese.....!

Homemade cheese is elegant, soft, full of flavor and simply the best. I always admire the varieties my Italian friends make. I really make only one kind, Paneer. A fresh, ricotta like cheese that is closer to cheese curds than not and made with the addition of a natural agent with an acidic pH. You can use citric acid, lemon juice or, my preferred agent, yogurt. Yogurt leaves the least trace of acidity in the resulting cheese and also increases the volume, with the fat in the yogurt itself adding to the cheese.

Paneer is now a fairly well known cheese given the popularity of Indian food across the globe. It is an extremely versatile cheese that works well in saucy dishes as much as drier stir fries. My absolute favorite version of using it is Saag Paneer, a dish of chunks of the cheese softened in a sauce of spicy mustard greens. That is the epitome of comfort food for me and probably, the single dish in the cuisine that I can have nearly every other day! I know, I have to share the recipe for it. I promise to work on it soon! :)

Homemade Salted Cultured Butter

In a heavy bottom pan, bring the milk to a gentle boil. 

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, skim the thick cream that would have collected on the surface.

Store the cream in a container for 3-4 days in the fridge. It will thicken more in this time.

Pour the cream into a processor and start it in the lowest setting. Let it go, until the fat separates from the buttermilk.

Strain and reserve the buttermilk. Wash the butter several times in running cold water, squeezing out all the milk solids.

Butter is good when the water runs milky no more. 

Add a pinch of sea salt and pat it all over. Squeeze once more to remove any water lurking around. 

Pat a bit more sea salt, pack into mold and refrigerate. You can store it for a couple of weeks.

2 gallons full fat raw milk (atleast 6%)

pinch of salt


1/2 gallon of whole milk (cream skimmed to make butter above)

4 T cultured yogurt

Bring the milk to a boil. Keeping the heat on medium-high, add the yogurt and stir to incorporate.

The milk will separate into cheese and whey.

Drain the cheese into a cheese cloth and squeeze out the whey. Store the whey for later use.

Let the cheese hang for 30 minutes, to drip out more whey but not dry it out.

You can now squeeze into a mold to shape it or simply chunk it out for use. I typically do the latter. 

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days, less than a week.


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