Saturday, July 19, 2014

Recipe: Cultured Butter

Clabber butter is made by allow cream to ferment for a short period, resulting in the best butter on earth.

Source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch
In college I spent some time in Fort Collins, Colorado with the Enochsons, my roommates family. I went back with Hugh during winter and spring college breaks to chop firewood for next winter, clean the barn, rotate hay to prevent nitrogen fires, even preparing the steer for market (aka gelding)... this included an unfortunate trip to the rendering plant in Greeley one year. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the treasured moments in my life; it was the first time I’d ever seen snow. I went tobogganing, tubing, hiked around the Poudre River, went to wrestling matches in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Most of all, I learned how to milk a cow—a first for this island boy.

Mornings and evenings we collected fresh, warm milk in a pail then transferred it to a tapered milk bucket (see inset). A few tips: warm your hands before milking, use lots of bag balm, say hello to the cow real nice a sweet. After the milk cooled down (in about an hour or so), the cream rose to the top of smaller chamber where it was carefully ladled out. This was the best milk I’ve ever had—unpasteurized and whole. Mrs. Enockson made clabber (aka cultured) butter from the fresh cream. Clabber (from the Scottish) means to sour and thicken; this prevents milk from going putrid as good microbes colonize. The French call this cultured cream Crème Fraîche. Unpasteurized cream will naturally thicken as it ferments. Churning separates the buttermilk from milk fat. The result is a slightly sour, rich butter with a very deep dairy flavor—it’s the best butter on earth! Mrs. Enockson made the most jaw-dropping biscuits from this butter. After refrigerating overnight, the butter was usually kept in the cupboard. Other than the wonderful flavor, I was amazed at how it kept its form without melting as store-bought butter would.

If you can get a hold of raw cream that would be ideal. Recently some farmers have won legal battles, but raw dairy in the United States is controversial and its sale is still illegal in many states. That being said, here’s my Brooklyn-boy solution using pasteurized heavy cream and a lactobacteria starter—I filtered kimchee juice though a fine sieve to make a starter. These instructions yield roughly a 3/4 pint of butter.

Clabber Butter Recipe
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp kimchee juice, filtered
    (you can also use whey or buttermilk as a starter, but that's not fun.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt or sugar (optional)
  • paper towel and rubber band
  • rubber spatula
  • large mixing bowl
  • hand blender
  • coffee filter and filter caddy

Open the cream spout add 1 tsp filtered kimchee juice, close and shake. In the end you actually don’t taste any kimchee. Open the top of the carton completely and cover with a paper towel and a rubber band. Let it sit at room temperature (65-72°F) for 12 to 18 hours. As lactcobacteria multiply and colonize, the cream ferments and thickens. You can buy a clabber starter online, or you can use whey or buttermilk... but that’s no fun, is it. The point is to inoculate the cream with a living lactobacteria culture. At this point you can add a little sugar or salt if you want.

Using only one beater, set the hand mixer to it’s lowest setting and whip until the cream separates into buttermilk and butter solids (approximately five to six minutes)—avoid spatter, use a large mixing bowl. You’ll notice that the fat forms into small clumps; tilt the bowl and use a spatula gather the solids to one side and press out some of the liquid, then carefully transfer the solids to a coffee filter—use two if needed. Hang filter caddy over a bowl and allow remaining liquid to drain for 30 to 45 minutes, agitating lightly every so often to remove the liquid. Some save the buttermilk, I prefer to discard it. It’s not like the thick butter milk used for baking, it’s more akin to sour skim milk. Pack butter into a small air-tight container and refrigerate overnight.

A generous schmeer of freshly made clabber butter with jam and toasted gluten-free bread from Chatham Bakery

Cultured butter, like cheese, builds more flavor with a little age; I think it tastes best after a week of refrigeration, but who’s stopping you from digging in, right? So go forth and spread that bread, bake the flakiest biscuits and croissants, make a pound cake that will sink a boat and say “Yo man, I got me some cultured butter!’


  1. Fun article! I've always been interested in making my own fermented butter :) thanks!

  2. It's good stuff. Our cat is hooked on it too. :)