Monday, July 12, 2010

An Intensive - Cultured Butter

Recently some friends asked me to come along on a hike. "I can't," I replied, "I'm taking a 6 hour cheese intensive that day."

You risk some raised eyebrows and prolonged stares when making a statement like that. But then again, this is the Bay Area. A passion for cheese (or really anything food related) is not uncommon, and more often than not the response is something like:

a. Awesome, where's the class and when can I take it?
b. Cool! I did a (insert butchery class, knife skills, pasta making, bread, etc.) last week.

The culinary arts are well respected in this part of the world. Otherwise 6 hour cheese intensives wouldn't be a possibility. Luckily for me, they are. My friend Elisa kindly invited me to join her in the class. I can safely say we didn't really know what we were in for, which was, roughly, five different cheeses (ricotta, mozzerella, camembert, chevre, feta, yogurt) and 2 different kinds of butter.

It was a long day of dairy at the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland, ending in a feast of our labors. With the feta, we assembled a beautiful caprese salad, pictured above. The feta was my favorite of the bunch, tangy and mild. I've always been somewhat intimidated by the cheese making process, having only attempted ricotta and chevre. My ricotta turned out great, the chevre, not so much. It's a fairly precise art. You need the right ingredients, the right tools and above all, the right temperatures. Some of the cheeses require more time and effort than others, of course. I thought I'd share the recipe for cultured butter, totally easy and incredibly delicious.

I don't know why I hadn't considered making my own butter before. Now that I realize how simple it is to do, I'll certainly be doing it again. It's far superior to store-bought, especially the cultured butter, or yogurt butter. Basically, you just add yogurt to the milk, let it ferment a bit, and then whip it up. It was delicious.

Well worth a 6 hour cheese intensive.

Cultured Butter

1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
a couple pinches of salt

In a glass bowl, mix the cream and yogurt together. Cover with a hand-towel or cheesecloth and let the mixture sit out in a warm area of your kitchen overnight. The ideal temperature for this is between 70-75 degrees. It will still work if it's colder, it will just take a bit longer.

In the morning, the mixture should have thickened a bit, letting the yogurt cultures meld with the cream.

A couple options at this point, you can put the mixture in your cuisineart (if you have one) on high for about 3 minutes, until the butter has formed a ball, you can use a hand-mixer on high, or you can put it in a jar and shake it vigorously until it's turned (if you have very strong arms).

If using a hand-mixer, turn the setting from high to low once the cream starts to form stiff peaks. At this point, the milk solids are separating from the liquid and things can get messy if the speed is too high.

When the solid butter has formed, pour off any buttermilk liquid in the bowl, and squeeze the butter to release any additional liquids (you can reserve the liquid, which is basically just buttermilk, for dressings). This is where a butter press can come in handy. The picture above is of butter that has been pressed, the press had the bird design molded into it. Pretty, no?

The final step is to rinse your butter with cold water, do that until the water runs clear and it will keep it from turning rancid. After that, salt the butter on all sides.

Dish, and serve.

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