Why This Recipe Works
by Paul Adams
With the help of friendly bacteria, you can make rich, tangy homemade butter that’s a lot more interesting than the store-bought sticks. All it takes is cream, a little starter culture, and time. If you live in pasture country and can get fresh, grass-fed cream straight from a nearby farm, you’re in great shape. (Note that there are dangers associated with unpasteurized milk, especially for immunocompromised people.) High-quality, flavorful cream makes the best butter, no question, even without culturing it.
We highly suggest you seek out some of the good stuff for this recipe. But if you don’t have a cow, don’t have a cow! Regular supermarket heavy cream is much improved when you patiently culture it. In our testing, we tried both pasteurized and ultrapasteurized heavy cream, which are treated differently before packaging. We also tested a cream that contained ingredients intended to make it stay foamed longer when it’s whipped. The best batches were made with pasteurized (rather than ultrapasteurized) cream free of stabilizers.
The most exciting results, the ones that were truly distinctive and unlike butters you can buy, came from letting the culturing process continue a full week. The flavors that developed were strong and complex, bordering on funky and cheesy.
Last but definitely not least, when you make cultured butter, you get buttermilk! Plenty of it, with the same nuanced tang as the butter—perfect for making biscuits or marinades or even for drinking as a refreshing fermented treat. Diane St. Clair, whose butter farm we visited, wrote a whole book about cooking with buttermilk. Just be sure to save a couple of tablespoons of it to culture your next batch of butter.