dark dairy days

I have to say that I am not much of a milk drinker. Prior to the Dark Days Challenge, I can’t even tell you the last time I bought a quart of milk. We do use a bit of fresh goat milk (when it’s in season) courtesy of my favorite ladies at Sassy Nanny Farmstead Cheese. And every now and then we’ll open a box of rice milk to see us through. But the DD Challenge proposed a dilemma. Boxed rice milk is far from local, and the girls at Sassy Nanny weren’t producing during the darkest days of winter. I realized that although I may not feel the urge to sit down to a tall glass of cold milk, I might just start craving cheese, butter, and yogurt on local nights.
And so early last December, towards the beginning of the 50-mile radius foods challenge, I made a memorable trip to Tetzner’s – our local cow dairy. I bought 3 quarts of cream and 4 quarts of milk. It proceeded to sit in the fridge for a good number of days until I finally decided I had better do something with it. I went straight for the gold and made a tub of ice cream and pound of butter. Emboldened with my success, I moved on to yogurt and kefir. And I have been having a dairy heyday ever since. Jars of fresh cream and milk have become regulars in our refrigerator this winter.
I have a huge new crush on homemade kefir. I’ve had it store-bought from a carton many times, but it has always struck me as too sharp and too tangy. I never go out of my way for it. So I was pleased to find that my homemade version is bright and smooth. It’s so easy to drink and eat just plain with nothing added. I started my initial batch with a kefir starter that I ordered online. I have been using either that or a few tablespoons of existing kefir as starter, both with good results. But now I’m so infatuated that I want to want to take things one step further and search out some actual kefir grains. I learned in my research that the Turkish word “keif” translates to “feel good.” And now I know why.
Homemade ricotta was next on my list. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It took all of 15 minutes (plus 20 more minutes for it to drain through cheesecloth). The taste is so superior to store bought that I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Like most of these homemade dairy products, the price breakdown is comparable to store bought but with several other benefits –  it’s local, it’s fresh, the taste is outstanding, AND I don’t have to litter my cupboard (or landfill) with wayward little plastic yogurt, cheese, and ice cream containers.
Throughout all of my dark days dairy escapades this winter, I kept coming back to the butter. My inaugural batch was good, but that was all. Just good. I had a taste off with a few store-bought butters I had on hand and it didn’t compare. Mine tasted overly milky, and (for lack of a better descriptive) boring. Especially next to the newest love of my life – a butter from  Rochdale Farms, a small creamery in southern Wisconsin.
I discovered this marvelous, hand-rolled butter about a year ago at a food co-op in Minneapolis. I proceeded to became so addicted to it that I wouldn’t make a trip to the Twin Cities without a small cooler in tow so I could bring home several pounds for the freezer. I even went so far as to plan a trip to the cities (4 1/2 hours one way) based purely on the fact that we were out of butter – though I didn’t openly admit this scheme at the time. But it’s okay. I’m in recovery now. Mostly because I worked all winter to create a clone of Rochdale butter.
First I had to discern what is is about this butter that sets it apart from other butters (even really good butters). It has a tang and saltiness that is unmatched in other contenders (especially mine). I went online to do a little research. Sure enough, I discovered that Rochadle Farms adds a bit of cultured whey to each small batch of butter they make. That would explain the unique tanginess. I didn’t have cultured whey – and wasn’t sure how to go about making it, but I did have cultured kefir. Ding! I was onto something. A bit more research and I had formulated a recipe for cultured butter. After one or two attempts and tweaks, I successfully absolved my dependence on Rochdale Farms butter. Because now I can make it all on my own at a moments notice. Not, of course, without the help of the cows at Tetzner’s Dairy who have earned my enduring gratitude.
I haven’t tried this using yogurt as a culture, but I think it would work just as well. Just be sure it is plain yogurt that still has live cultures in it.

Cultured Butter

3 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasturized)
2 tablespoons kefir
1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon fine sea slat (optional)

Pour cream and kefir into a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Gently stir to combine. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rest in a warm spot (about 75 degrees F) overnight.

The cream mixture should be somewhat thick by this point. Pour cream into the bowl of a food processor or an electric mixer and process on high speed. It will thicken almost immediately, and then turn to whipped cream. As it continues to thicken, begin to watch for a slight graininess. Shortly after this it will become noticeably yellow, grainy, and butter will clump together in the bowl. Stop processing as soon as you see butter clumping together – it’s important not to re-integrate the butter back into the buttermilk. This whole amazing process takes a mere 2 – 4 minutes.

Pour the buttermilk off (you can use this in muffins, pancakes, fruit smoothies, etc.). Refrigerate the butter for about an hour to firm it up for final removal of buttermilk.

Press and knead the chilled butter using your hands or the back of a wooden spoon. The goal is to work out every last drop of buttermilk. This is also a great time to knead in salt if you want salted butter. I like a salty butter when I’m not cooking with it, so I use a half teaspoon. Rinse the butter several times in ice-cold water as you knead; once the water runs clear, the butter is done.
Roll into a sheet of wax or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes about 3/4 pound butter.

5 Responses to “dark dairy days”


  1. 1 Julie March 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thanks for the recipe. How do you make ricotta?

    • 2 GarlicPig March 29, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Ricotta:

      Bring 4 cups milk, 2 cups cream, and 1 teaspoon salt to a full boil (over medium heat) in a non-reactive pot. Stir occasionally as it heats up and comes to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar. This causes the milk to curdle. After about a minute you can strain the mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth set over a strainer. The longer you strain it, the thicker your ricotta will be. I let mine sit abut 20 – 25 minutes. They whey from this will be more tangy, but still works great as a cooking liquid. So simple!

  2. 3 Wendy April 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Jill!

    I’ve been liking my fresh ricotta and butter too this winter! I’ve never used kefir in my butter, but it sounds like it would add a great flavor. Unfortunately, I never keep any kefir around. Do you suppose regular (plain) yogurt would do the same trick?

    Wendy
    makingmynyhome.blogspot.com


  1. 1 wild ride « Garlic Pig Trackback on May 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

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Earl, ready to tackle another wednesday #11degrees #winter #newredboots #instiearl new honey label! #honey #packaging #beekeeping sunday #coffeesmoke #sunshine #cherrypancakes


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