Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Real Milk: curds and whey, and butter-making

I recently found a source for raw milk.  It is delicious. Diego calls it "creamy milk" and I've been drinking it with cooled earl grey tea, which makes for such a sweet and spicy treat. 

I have also been making curds and whey and have made butter with the ripened cream.  Instructions are below.


1/12/12 Note: Edited for clarity and accumulated experience. This post gets so many hits that I wanted to make it more user-friendly.

Allow the raw milk sit out for 1-4 days in a bowl until the curds visibly separate from the whey. You can do this without fear of spoilage because the lactic acid in the milk breaks down the lactose and the milk will begin to ferment.

The cream will rise to the top and thicken.  Scrape (or spoon) this off the second day or so.  Underneath, the milk may look either liquid or solid.  If it is solid, your curds have started to set.

On my first attempt I was still unable to tell the difference between the curds and whey by the fourth day.  I stirred it up a bit, then saw it: the whey is a yellowish liquid and the curds are more solid and white.  If this isn't the case for you, let it sit another day or so.  The fermentation process is slower in cooler temps; conversely, the warmer it is, the quicker it will ferment.  It pays to check it each day.

When the milk has fermented sufficiently, dump the the contents into a clean dish towel secured over a large container, then hang, allowing it to drip. Don't squeeze - just let the contents hang until it stops dripping. This usually takes a couple of days and you may have to remove the accumulated whey to make room for more. The goal is to reduce the water content slowly.

Whey dripping from the curds

Once it stops dripping, you will have a container of liquid yellow whey, and in your hanging towel, solid white curds. The curds will have reduced in size and water content significantly. It is now homemade cream cheese.

Pick the lump of cream cheese off the towel and put it in a glass dish for storage.  This should keep for several weeks as-is.  Scrape the extra bits off the towel.  Put the whey in a glass jar for cold storage.  This will keep indefinitely; you will use it before it goes bad.

The reduced curds and whey

The whey can be used in conjunction with salt to ferment vegetables.  It can also be used as a preserving force to add shelf-life to homemade mayonnaise or ketchup. Or use it to soak grains and legumes, as the acidic medium to neutralize phytates, adding 1-2 tablespoons to the soaking water.

The cream cheese reminds me of goat cheese.  I've been eating it with dill flat bread . . . delicious.  It can also be added to soups or other dishes, adding a nice tang.

I followed the instructions from Nourishing Traditions to make curds and whey.


When the cream ripens, it looks not unlike sour cream. I put it in the blender and blended it on and off, on and off - giving it time to rest - until it thickened even more (and began to look like butter). I then scraped it out into a bowl with ice-cold water and "paddled" it with two flat wooden spoons until the water ran clear.

I salted it, and then...my, my, my...we ate it with dinner than night and it was unbelievably delicious. So soft and tasty. It beat store-bought butter hands-down. I couldn't believe it.

One-half gallon of milk yielded the equivalent of one-half stick of butter. Like my MIL said, "No wonder why butter is so expensive!"

To make the butter, I referenced The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It as well as following butter-related conversation on my Traditional Foods yahoo group.

* * * * *

A few people have recently questioned me on how I have time for experiments like these with two little ones. I have already responded to them, but I thought I would add my conclusions here as well.

First off, I do pretty much all my experimentation while Squeeze is home. Enough said.

Secondly, cooking from scratch is both a mindset and a lifestyle. It does take planning, and though I am long past the point of no return, I don't make allowances or keep processed foods in the house. Processed "food" just doesn't taste good - and there are many, many recipes that are quick and easy to make (and I keep a lot of soups on hand for last-minute eats).

Finally, I am driven by enthusiasm and curiosity. It means a lot to me to feed my family nutritionally-dense foods.  But even more than that, I enjoy eating REAL food. Junk leaves me unsatisfied and unhappy.


Anna said...

That all looks delicious AND incredible. I can't wait until I have some time to try things like that!

Sandy said...

can i do this with my local milk -- not raw, but less pasturized etc., than regular milk -- specifically the curds and whey separation, the cream cheese, without spoilage? How fab. And, fermented veggies?? I was just going to google different ways to use whey b/c I haven't been using enough of what I have left over my our homemade yogurt. But, what veggies do you ferment? Do tell. -Sandy

a. borealis said...

I've only fermented Gingered Carrots and Sauerkraut thus far, both recipes from Nourishing Traditions, both done before I had access to whey, so the salt content was doubled. The sauerkraut is still aging, but the carrots were delicious, especially with meat dishes. A bit salty, so I am looking forward to trying out the recipes with whey.

I will be full speed ahead this summer!! Definitely check out Nourishing Traditions. It is filled with excellent information that is hard to find.

Dani said...

You are amazing! I love your projects!

TheSwabbie said...

You are lucky like I am that you can get Raw milk. First, if you want to make butter (lots of it) buy heavy whipping cream and use your blender on low.. when it thickens ALOT then use your spoon to finish it. You can buy a quart of heavy whippng cream for $3.18 at walmart. I use two quarts to make one batch of butter. That much will yeild about 8 normal sized sticks (if you have a form).

Raw milk is awesome for making Mozzarella. You can use regular milk for cream cheese etc.. but Raw is BEST for Mozz. The homogenization destroys proteins that make Mozz stretch. Otherwise you have to add heavy cream and salt to make it work. Have fun!