If you want to see butter then look up. Sometimes a flat milk or heavy cream, and other times like puffy globs of fat clouds floating along in the buttermilk of the big bowl of sky. There is a Hindu story about that. The Gods had lost many of the treasures that gave them their powers including immortality and the way to get them back was to churn the treasures out of the milky sky. They used a mountain to do the churning, but it was too much for the Gods to handle on their own so they sought help from the Demon crew who all together got the treasures back. What an image, especially in the face of life’s sometimes unruly chaotic moments of loss, good and bad working together to shake up life to reveal its treasures hidden within. It’s interesting how our internal human processes can often mirror nature’s natural processes (who express themselves well with natural preservation). Wouldn’t it be more interesting when the challenges of life overwhelm our own horizon, to look up and see the clouds forming and say, yep it’s time to be made into butter again.
We all know that there are generally two ways to do most things anymore- the immediate way, reliably severed from the ecosystem, and the other that takes time and subtly penetrates and deepens into a moment that’s woven into existence’s greater expression. Butter can be made by buying cream, dropping it into a stand mixer, turning it on and walking away for long enough. The second, other way scours it of its purity, merging it with the natural imperfections with casein arm’s full of lactic acid bacterial life.
Letting time mature milk first separates the cream as the fat is less dense and will take its seat up high as a floating mountain (just be sure to be using unhomogenized milk). Other ways to do this is by force. Fresh milk can be spun, there are table top machines with varying levels of commercial and hobby ones, that mechanized or hand cranked, throw the milk and cream out in two different spouts using centripetal force based on their density. Using the slower method to create floating islands of risen cream lets you scoop the cream off, or another way to describe it is to skim.
After time has aged our cream into maturity where it can easily be plucked away separately, on its own we’ll let it keep ripening to the autumn of its life, where it gradually begins its rotting, just ever so much. This extra period is the culturing process where lactic acid bacteria adds interesting flavors, changes the acidity ever so slightly which helps with the final butter’s storage potential, and breaks things down to essentially get the final buttering ball rolling.
This culturing of cream can be matured for a couple hours or a couple days, relying on naturally occurring microbes or by adding your own through a kefir grain or backslopping a cultured product like yogurt, previous buttermilk or whathaveyou.
Then it’s time to churn.
With the suddenness of a lightning bolt rushing fully charged through the sky, churning tares the old body to bits until a murky new shape slides out with better preservability. After enough agitating violence, whether in a butterchurn, shaking in a lidded jar, or mangled mechanically with a food processor or mixer, cream is taken beyond that glorious beauty of fluffy ethereal whippedness who will cling on to the very end until it can no longer and is finally broken. Given up, two separate parts spill out the other side, one blossomed into a new form solid and curiously floating in its old self, while the threshed buttermilk is spent and still.
Then strained from its old excess the butterfat globs are mashed into a single mass and dunked into an icey baptismal bath to be fully purged of all of the residue of the life it once knew. It’s massaged in changes of cold water until it runs clear and fresh, standing on the ruins of the past a soft butter has emerged.
In a final act of cleansing the butter is kneaded on a board, perhaps with a sprinkle of salt, as the last tears of buttermilk are drawn off and its new form is complete, ready to look forward with renewed and matured grace to flavor the moments to come.
The beautiful truth that butter is, aged, rotted, and dismembered to be shed of its excess is only fully realized when that solid seeming glob then does what it is made it to, just like any heart that has ever been shook, broken, and separated to ultimately gather itself into a new form, it is remade to be melted once again. Butter, reborn love spilling back into delicious vulnerability.
The leftover buttermilk is alive and cultured and can be used to backslop into future buttermaking like an heirloom sourdough starter, or like the wisdom of the past culminating to push the future into existence.
If starting the butter process with milk, which will need a hefty amount to yield much butter in the end, skim milk can be carried on to make cheese, such as this process for a naturally fermented ricotta cheese.