Often times the only thought of dairy products on people's minds is fluid milk, and with a weight conscious society, butter is frequently overlooked. I happen to think though, that good fat is what's missing in many people's diets. Enter the family cow, a real workhorse for the farmstead if you have adequate land and pasture to support a bovine. Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all delicious and are necessary items for the home kitchen.
If you're reading this blog I am probably preaching to the choir, so I'll just run through my butter making scheme to give you a general idea of what is possible for stocking the home larder with butter.
Jane is raising her calf in addition to providing enough milk for the house. A purebred Guernsey, she is currently giving about 6 gallons of milk each day. Two plus for the calf, and four gallons for the house. As the calf grows larger it will drink more to support its growth and we will take less.
I milk twice a day, and strain the milk into wide mouth gallon jars with the idea in mind that I will be skimming the cream for butter. It takes about 24 hours for the cream to rise completely, so I skim the cream from the milk after that time, and when I am going to make butter. The real method to my madness (and it is madness this time of year) is to make as much butter with early lactation cream as I can and store it for later. I freeze my butter, but you could also make ghee if you don't want to use electricity to store your butter. Why early lactation you ask? Because I am a lazy churner, and during the early lactation period the fat globules are larger and it churns faster. Of course, Mother Nature designed this to benefit the calf, but anytime I can hop aboard the lazy train and make hand churned butter in 7 - 10 minutes I do it! So I churn to beat the band in the first three months and about the time I have a good amount of butter stocked up, and the calf is needing more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller and the butter takes longer to come. Sure, I could buy an electric churn and who would care how long it took to get butter, but also the urgency to stockpile is part of our genetic make-up and I am harvesting sunlight after all. That means I have to behave in a seasonal manner and stock up on the bounty when there is truly a bounty, not a faux bounty that the store bought mentality has given us.
Fitting butter churning into an already busy farm schedule takes some planning, and is dictated by the amount of milk in the fridge. I can only store so much milk, and I only have so much time. It doesn't take any longer to churn two pounds of butter than it does one, so I go with my two gallon churn and churn every other day, rather than use a smaller churn and make butter every day. That works out the best for me. It's half the cleanup too, which is where the largest portion of my time is spent when I say I spend and hour and a half a day "milking" the cow. The actual milking, "pails" in comparison time-wise to the milk handling and processing.
I skim the cream into squatty wide mouth half gallon jars that I have just for cream. With hand skimming, it takes about 4 gallons of milk to yield a half gallon of cream, mileage may vary depending on the cow, stage of lactation and your hand skimming skill. To keep from exposing the milk to bacteria over and over, I wait until a few hours before I am going to churn to skim, and I skim all the jars at the same time. The cream needs to be at about 60 degrees F to churn fast, much colder it becomes grainy - much warmer and it is greasy. I know that sounds funny, but butter has lots of similarities to dough and all its quirks, once you see and feel these subtle differences you'll know what I mean. After skimming, I leave the milk to reach room temperature or 60 degrees and then I have a little leeway to do other chores or fit in churning while fixing dinner.
After churning the butter needs to be washed and worked thoroughly to get out all the buttermilk, this is very important for longer storage. Adding salt at this time is a personal preference, I have never found that it makes much difference in the keeping quality.
To figure out how much butter I need for the year, I use my loose 52 week plan I keep in mind when I am canning. How much butter do you use per week? One pound, three pounds? Multiply that figure by 52 and see what you get. We fall somewhere in between that number, and luckily that works out to be an attainable goal for the resident butter maker. At this point I am getting about a pound a day, so if I can keep up that pace, in four months time and when the sunlight is starting to fade I can have 120 pounds of butter stored up, maybe.
So there you have it, from 4 gallons of milk, you get 1/2 gallon of cream, which magically turns into a pound of butter and a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk. Plus you still have almost the 4 gallons of milk that is perfect for cheese of some sort, or clabbering for hens and hogs. And after all that there is gallons of whey too. The family cow, the true workhorse of the farmstead :)