Buttered Heart from a Churning Sky- a metaphorical Cultured Butter Tutorial

dairy, fermentation

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.

Naturally Fermented Ricotta


Ricotta is a very simple cheese to make that requires a little bit of heat and acidity to separate the curd. It’s common practice to add a splash of vinegar to achieve the necessary acidity however with a little more patience this can be done by just allowing the milk to ripen on its own.

Choose an unhomogenized milk, often in stores as “cream-top.” The process of homogenization is meant to destroy milk’s natural separating qualities which in turn hampers its curd quality. Leave the milk out to being souring. A starter of some sort is a great idea with pasturized milk and can ensure a more welcoming and interesting flavor. Anything from leftover buttermilk from a cultured buttermilk process or kefir would work great.

It’s a little intuitive at this point, but depending on weather should take a day or two or three. (The milk pictured above went a little long and while worked great, had a more pungent flavor.) As the lactic acid bacteria feed they will create a natural acidity. With a good soured milk all that needs done is to heat it up slowly to just about a boil, and when you see the curds begin to clearly separate, turn off the heat and let it finish the process for around 5-10 more minutes. High and longer heat will make a firmer curd, while the opposite is softer and more delicate.

Strain the curds out in either a cheese cloth, a fine strainer, or t-shirt even- though not necessarily letting it strain entirely. There is potential to decide the moisture content of the finished ricotta, which feels like the artful side of making this cheese. It’s better to strain less than more, and thoughtfully continue straining until it reaches an elegant and appropriate consistency for what you will be using it for.

Then sprinkle in salt to taste and enjoy fresh, with optional spices and herbs added.

Homemade Cream Cheese

dairy, fermentation

Cream cheese is another very simple cheese that is worth making if you’re able to get your hands on some really good local cream.

We culture via the David Asher method of using kefir. A simple plop of our kefir into the cream and we’ll let it sit out for a day at room temperature and then strain the grains out before heating. This culturing makes sure that our pasteurized cream has strong populations of the beneficial microbes we need. And perhaps according to your taste preference you can let the culturing go a little longer, or not.

The next step is to warm up the cream gently to a temperature comfortably warm to your finger, or say around 80- 90 degrees. Heat slowly and carefully, then add a small dose of rennet. (Rennet is the curdling agent we need to make this cheese. Here’s a decent source for getting it either derived from animals or vegetables.) We use animal rennet, which is very effective and we use the smallest drop we can get for a pint of cream. The drop is mixed with a 1/4th cup of lukewarm water and then gently stir in and all around for 20 seconds or so. Let the cream settle for an hour or two and it should have a yogurt like consistency, after which we like to plop it in the fridge overnight as we feel it makes a very loose curd a tad firmer for when we get to straining. Is it true? Who knows but nonetheless has evolved into our cream cheese making process.

When you’re ready to start straining prepare your set-up such as laying a towel, or even just a ink-less t-shirt over a colander with a bowl underneath. After carefully ladling in the cream, pop it in the fridge to slowly strain to the thickness you desire while occasionally mixing to encourage an even strain. Often times we’ll let it strain for up to 3 days. As it thickens up you can ball up the cloth and hang it, up to you. Doing things as gently and gradually as possible feels good sometimes.

When the cream cheese is strained to your liking mix in salt to suit your tastes and pack away.

This is a great recipe to dollop on your bigos, or naturally, to pair with your bagels.

Homemade Spring Herb Chevre

dairy, fermentation, homesteading

In the spirit of welcoming spring, chevre is a perfect companion. It’s creamy, yet sour notes describe the thawing and waking of the world around us. It’s also a cheese I refer to as a lazy cheese. It’s the perfect gateway for anyone wanting to get into cheesemaking, with several steps that run the pattern of- “do one thing, then forget about it for a day or so.” To make it even more special it begs to compliment the first herbs that rise from the ground, or even if you’re in need of using them up, perhaps the last of last year’s dried herbs. It can be made from any mammal’s milk really, so why not pick some herbs on your walk to the milk store?

Start with good milk. It’s best to use the most minimally processed milk you can get your hands on, but definitely non-homogenized milk. Often this is called cream-top. The process of homogenization destroys the milk’s ability to turn into the cheese we want.

Next you’ll need rennet. Rennet is the coagulator that will give us our curd. Traditionally it originates from enzymes in the stomach of a calf, however there are now all sorts of options from plant-based rennet to weird laboratory synthetic ones. Check out Cultures for Health for a full line up that’s great for home use.

Lastly you’ll need some kind of inoculant if you’re not using raw milk, which provides it’s own cultures. Dairy kefir grains work great.


If using a half gallon of milk, pour off a cup with your kefir grain to culture for 1-2 days at room temperature. A jar with a loose fitting lid works great. No need to be super precise if you don’t want to.

Once your kefir has generally ripened, take the reminder of your milk to the stove and heat to a pleasantly warm 90 degrees. Turn off heat and add your kefir (straining out the grain for future use). Stir and incubate the milk for at least an hour.

Next measure out your rennet according to the manufacturer’s instructions of the particular kind you have. We are using just 1/4th of a dose. I dilute mine in a small splash of water before pouring it in the milk. Stir the milk gently for 20 seconds making sure to touch every part- top, bottom, and every side. Put a lid on and let it rest.

In fact let it rest for 24 hours. I’m convinced this cheese was invented by someone who just flat forgot about it. Regardless, the curd will set within a half hour, and will then slowly ferment in the whey building up lactic acid bacteria. The results of this 24 hours time vary upon environment. Best to taste it if you’re particular. The warmer the room temperature/ the longer it goes, the more sour tasting it will become.

After 24 hours, or so, set up a cheesecloth straining system. Sometimes when I can’t find a cheesecloth I opt for a white teeshirt. Tie it up around a spoon and suspend it over a pot or bowl to drain out. Straining should take another 12-24 hours, or you can check periodically for your desired consistency.

Next open up your beautifully strained curd and place in a bowl for mashing and mixing. Add salt to taste, perhaps a teaspoon at a time until it is just right for you. Then the fun part- add whatever spring herbs you have around whether they be ramps, nettles, redbud flowers, dandelions, etc. Whatever flavors excite your imagination.

I think it’s essential to celebrate the new flavors that come up with every new stroke of the season’s wandering melody. Not everyone can stroll over to a ramp patch any time so consider dehydrating some to call upon for stoking some excitement for the flavors close at hand. Ramps and fresh chevre taste like spring to me.


Ryazhenka – baked & yogurted milk

dairy, fermentation, homesteading

Since we are in oven season here is a recipe that you can’t miss to help warm your house and your spirits. It seems likely that this technique was developed by making full use of woodheated ovens. After a day of baking, a crock of milk was tossed in the residual heat, with the oven cover sealed, and left to slowly caramelize. The milk changes to a bronze-ish hue with brown caramel-y flavors as the sugars in the milk does its Malliard reaction thing. The baked milk is then inoculated with a lactic-acid culture and fermented into a delicious beverage.

The possibilities of this technique are great. I love the flavor of the baked milk and can be inoculated with everything from kefir, to sour cream. In this example I use yogurt as it’s my preference. The cultured product can then be drunken as is, perhaps spruced up with some maple syrup and cinnamon, or strained into a thick Greek-style yogurt. The choice is up to the maker.

But stay keen on the hidden treat of the crispy surface that develops on the milk as it bakes. That crispy, fatty, creamy cap deserves to rest on a slice of freshly baked bread and get eaten immediately.

Start with delicious milk.

Then bake it uncovered in the oven at 225 degrees for 6-8 hours or until it has reached a nice carmelized-ish hue, with a superbly crispy layer on top. The color of the milk can vary but you can determine its done-ness by a dark, crispy surface layer.

Quick snack break

Grab a freshly baked bread slice, scoop off the hot crispy top layer, add a sprinkle of salt. Swoon.

Making the yogurt

Let the baked milk cool. If you have a thermometer cool it to 120 degrees, if you’re low tech, test it by dipping a finger. When the temperature on your finger is hot but still comfortable you’re good to go.

Set up your jars or containers to ferment in. Basically anything with a lid. You can inoculate with a dollop of your favorite store bought live-culture yogurt or follow the instructions on purchased cultures. For this montage, I just put a dollop of already made yogurt into my quart mason jars.

Pour in the warm, baked milk, and stir everything up to incorporate the starter culture.


My preferred yogurt incubator is a small cooler and hot water. I incubate at 120 degrees for 4 hours, and the little Playmate cooler handles the job smashingly.

I take my inoculated milk jars and place them in the cooler. It’s a good idea to pre-warm my cooler by filling it with hot water while the milk was cooling. Next fill the cooler with a new refresh of 120 degree hot water and fill it up to the height of the milk in the jars. My taps run at 120 degrees at their hottest making this an easy task. Otherwise you can heat up water on the stove.

Close the cooler lid and give it 4 hours of solitude.

Then pop the yogurt into the fridge to cool and firm up.

Straining Yogurt

There are a couple directions to go here. You can leave it as is. Ryazhenka is a cultured beverage so you can drink your yogurt as is, use it as yogurt, or strain it into something thicker. I like thick yogurt so I opt for a strain.

Using a clean, wet, and wrung out cloth, line a colander with a catch basin beneath for the whey that runs off. Since it’s winter I just throw this outside to avoid taking up too much refrigerator space. When it reaches a thickness you like it’s done. Greek yogurt perhaps? A thick dollop for my bigos?

A Beverage?

It also makes a delicious beverage with nothing more than a generous shake to distribute the thickness. Sometimes I’d add a dash of maple syrup and a pinch of salt for a wonderful treat. Cinnamon and ginger also suit it well.