Jul 11, 2011

A Gallon of Cream? For Me?

One day in March I went to collect my Winter Harvest buying clu49055555 (kitten on keyboard, sorry)buying club 6cylby4 order (OK, kitten, have some liver treats.) and instead of a gallon of skim milk I found a gallon of cream with my name on it. Let's pause here for a moment to absorb how horrifying it was, to see a gallon of cream with my name on it. In block letters on a white label. I took this vat of fat home and emailed their office immediately, but there was nothing they could do. I had accidentally checked the cream column instead of the skim milk column.

What to do? I learned that cream can be frozen, so I froze it a pint at a time in quart freezer bags, which is what we had on hand. That would buy us some time. I knew we would use some for ice cream, which Mr. Dream Kitchen makes. When the weather warmed up, we pulled out some to make mint ice cream with the mint from our garden. It transcends store-bought mint ice cream several times over.

Last week I got started thinking about butter. I looked up how to make it, and saw that you can just whirl cream around in a mixer. I poured in a quart of the thawed but still cold cream into the mixer. Without a splash guard, I had to go at too slow a speed for anything to happen, especially with the cream being so cold. So I transferred it all to the food processor and gave it a whirl. I wish my sons had been there to see it. For a few minutes you think nothing is happening and then you can watch it seizing as the butter suddenly separates from the buttermilk.

At this point I gathered up the butter with my hands and kneaded it gently in a bowl of ice water, in order to rid it of the buttermilk, which would cause the butter to go rancid. I didn't save the buttermilk because I was in a slight panic about a leakage from the Cuisinart (was it something I did?), but next time I'll save it.

Here is the takeaway point: Butter made from organic local cream tastes the way butter is meant to taste. Strangely enough, the day that I made the butter I learned about a new book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by a local writer, Jennifer Reese. In it, she figures out what's worth buying and what's worth making. Butter doesn't seem worth it to her. I'm not sure it's worth it for baking (it may be?), but for spreading, yes. Yes! Next I'm going to order a butter bell to keep it in. You pack butter tightly into the "bell," and a seal is formed with water that you keep in the bottom. If you change the water every few days, the butter can last 30 days at room temperature.

The next project I want to attempt is ghee, in which you melt butter and simmer it for a while, skimming off the top layer. Also called clarified butter, ghee has a very high smoke point, and you can keep it on your counter, right near the stove for a long time. Ghee is used in Indian cooking, and is one small but important reason that Indian food is entirely marvelous.

And today's math lesson is this. A gallon of cream could yield two quarts of ice cream, and two pounds of butter, some of which could be made into ghee. My current CSA supplies cream for $10.95 a gallon, so that's $2.93 for a pound of butter. That's four "sticks" of the best butter you've ever had.

The next time I see my name on a gallon of cream, despite being condemned to Weight Watchers' Seventh Circle of Hell, I will rejoice.


liz said...


Helen said...

Homemade butter is a joy I usually save for parties where it will all get eaten in one go. I'd love to hear how long it keeps for you in a bell!