Whatcom Locavore: Make it better with your own butter

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 11, 2013 

I have a secret confession - something that you may find shocking.

In our family, we buy cream by the gallon. In fact, we usually buy it two gallons at a time. If you can feel your arteries hardening while you try to imagine how anyone could possibly use that much cream, please bear with me as I explain how we came to this practice.

I ate margarine for years because I thought it was healthier than butter. Butter contains cholesterol and saturated fats. Eating foods high in cholesterol, it was thought, would result in higher LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood.

Then came the news about trans fats, a man-made fat found in most margarines and commercially fried foods, such as french fries. Trans fats are used to make processed foods taste better, improve tongue feel, and last longer. They are unsaturated fats altered to be solid at room temperature - something saturated fats do naturally. In other words, trans fats mimic saturated fats in processed foods.

In reality, trans fats raise "bad" LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, too. Even worse, they also lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, making the LDLs potentially even more harmful.

Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in butter and some meats. However, natural trans fats have not been demonstrated to be as harmful as the man-made trans fats used in processed foods.

According to the American Heart Association, we should avoid man-made trans fats altogether, since most of us already get small amounts of natural trans fats.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required food manufacturers to include trans fats on labels, so if you look for foods with 0 trans fats you should be safe, right? Not so fast. In another example of subversion of food information, the FDA allows 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving to be labeled "0 Trans Fats."

Once again the answer is not to be found in the "nutritional facts." You have to read the ingredient list. Avoid anything with the words "partially hydrogenated."

As I began reading ingredient lists, I quickly learned that margarine often contains other marvels of modern food chemistry that I prefer to avoid, so I went back to eating and cooking with real butter. My taste buds were happier - plain butter is full of natural flavor.

One day I decided to try making butter from local cream. As with many local foods made fresh, it was a revelation. The natural flavor and texture were amazing! I could also omit the salt, making it even healthier to eat.

At first it seemed like a lot of trouble and mess to make butter regularly, but then my daughter purchased an electric mixer. Making butter is now quick and easy, and a part of our regular routine.

Buying local cream by the pint for butter is expensive. We really like the cream produced by Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, so I checked their website and discovered they also bottle cream in gallons. I called to find out how to get them, and was referred to the retailer where I had been buying the pints (The Islander grocery here on Lummi Island).

So now we special order cream by the gallon. We sometimes make our own ice cream, too, and plan to experiment with making sour cream and other cream products we use regularly. A lot of these things are easier to make than you might imagine.

Our current method of making butter is described in the recipe below. Note that the liquid left after extracting the butter is called buttermilk. However, it is not the cultured buttermilk product people typically purchase in the grocery store. This buttermilk is wonderful to use in baking instead of milk or water.

HOMEMADE BUTTER

Ingredients

1 pint cream (Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)

Directions

Put cream into bowl of an electric mixer with whisk tool attached. If you have a splash guard, use it, or you can wrap a towel over the top of the bowl to keep cream from splashing out.

Whisk at high speed until cream is the texture of very stiff whipped cream. Time will vary depending on the cream itself. It usually takes a couple of minutes or so.

Remove the whisk and affix the paddle attachment. Again set to high speed. Let run until you hear a change in the sound of the machine or you see small chunks of butter forming. Keep the mixer running until the butter just begins to come together in a ball or clump. Again, the length of time will vary depending on the fat content of the cream you are using, but it could take 5 to 10 minutes.

Stop the mixer and remove the bowl from the stand, scraping butter into it from the paddle. Pour off the buttermilk and save for other uses.

Put cold water over the butter to cover. Using your hands, pull all the butter into one lump and begin to knead it under the cold water. Change the cold water frequently and continue to knead until the cold water stays clear. The goal is to eliminate any remaining buttermilk from the butter.

Place the finished butter onto a lint-free towel or paper towels to drain for a few minutes. You can use the towel to gently dry the butter surface.

Push the fresh butter firmly into the inside bowl of a French butter dish (shown in the photo) and invert into the outside bowl half-filled with water. This seals the butter off from air, which is what causes rancidity. Butter in the butter dish can be stored at room temperature for up to a month.

Alternatively, pack the butter into a small bowl or ramekin with a tight cover, or wrap the butter with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Freeze any butter you don't expect to use within a couple of weeks. We also freeze the buttermilk in one-cup containers.

From one pint of cream, we usually get at least one cup of butter and a cup of buttermilk.


LOCAVORE RESOURCES

You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.

Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham

Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996

Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959

BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720

Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham

Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060

Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699

Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859

Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158

Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden

Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747

Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151

The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869

Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433

The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190

Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639

Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden

The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797

Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398

Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637

Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020

Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or nancy@whatcomlocavore.com. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.

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