How to Make Homemade Butter from Farm Fresh Milk (video)

This week for Food.Farmer.Earth:

Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe shares her intimate knowledge how to make fresh butter, and the different characteristics that come from milk in the Spring versus the Winter season.

Please Note: Fasenfest uses raw milk in her demonstration, something she prefers, pasteurized whole milk and cream can be used as a substitute. For a wider perspective on the controversy with raw milk, check out this accompanying post on Cooking Up a Story: The Raw Milk Debate: Thorny Issues of Food Safety, Food Rights, and Public Health.

How to Make Butter from Farm Fresh Milk Recipe:
—Recipe courtesy of Harriet Fasenfest

As you may know, raw cream butter, whether sweet, salted or cultured, is unavailable in the stores in the United States and is even rare in Europe. Once you learn how to make it you will be connected to a near-extinct artisan butter making tradition. But be advised, if you do not have a cow it may seem a little costly and, will take a little doing. I don’t begrudge either. Butter making is a labor of love. I don’t do it every week, only when I have more cream on hand than I need for everyday cooking.


Boil in a pot (or run through the dishwasher):

  • One quart jar (tempered canning jar)
  • 2 cup glass measuring cup
  • Ladle (small enough to fit into your jar of raw milk)
  • Tongs (for lifting hot bottle out of the boiling water – only the tips of the tongs are in the boiling water).
  • Butter muslin (cut to fit your sieve)

Have ready:

  • A sieve
  • A bowl to set under your sieve.
  • After boiling utensils you are now ready to skim the cream from the raw milk.


  • Half gallon raw milk (See note if you prefer to use pasteurized milk)
  • One tablespoon store bought buttermilk

For Flavoring & Storage:

  • Many people like to flavor their butter after the churning. Things like herbs, orange rind, rose petals, lavender are all items I have seen used. Personally, I like sweet butter so I generally do not add anything. You can certainly add a bit of salt for flavoring and to slow down the continuing fermentation process. Remember, if you are using raw milk it IS a live food and will continue its fermentation process even after you make the butter.
  • Storing butter in the refrigerator will slow this process down but not stop it completely. Salting butter helps preserve it as well. Freezing is perhaps the most effective way to preserve your butter. But with since I make so little it hardly ever turns on me. I eat it too quickly.

Note: If you prefer to use pasteurized milk you must look for non-homogenized milk. Pasteurized, but non-homogenized milk, will have a cream line indicating where the cream ends and milk starts. Non-homogenized milk will allow for the skimming process as outlined in this recipe. Alternately, you can just start with a half pint (cup), or more of pasteurized cream and add the buttermilk to that. Obviously you will be able to skip the skimming process all together if you do that. You will not get the lovely yellow color and flavors of raw milk and cream but using raw milk is not for everyone.

Making Butter and Buttermilk: (Produces 1/2 cup of Butter)

  1. Making butter from raw milk starts with skimming off the cream from the milk. You could start with raw cream if it is available but I just use what I get from the milk itself. It leaves a more skimmed milk for everyday drinking which my family likes. You could also use store-bought pasteurized cream (though not ultra homogenized) but I would rather learn the skills of artisan butter makers. It is your choice though.
  2. When making butter from raw milk, it is best to allow the milk to sit at least 24 hours in the fridge before skimming. Doing so will allow for gravity to separate the cream from the milk. The longer it sits the more it separates but I would not go beyond two or three days.
  3. In preparation for the skimming, I boil off a quart jar, lid and a small ladle to make sure my tools are sterile. I use the ladle to skim the cream off the half gallon bottle of milk (I receive it in wide mouthed 1/2 gallon jars which makes this task very easy. If you get yours in narrow mouthed jars or plastic jugs, pour the milk into something with a wide neck for separating). Depending on the season, I get anywhere from a one cup to 1 1/2 cups of cream from a half gallon of raw milk.
  4. I ladle the cream into the boiled bottle and add to each cup of cream a tablespoon of store-bought “cultured” buttermilk (I do virtually the same with my creme fraiche except I add two tablespoons of cultured buttermilk to one cup of cream and let it ferment longer). Make sure your store bought cultured buttermilk is within the sell date. You want the culture in it to be very active. Use whatever you have left of the buttermilk for your regular baking. It will keep very well for a long time in the fridge. The only time I worry about the pull date is when I’m using it for culturing butter or cheese. Actually, old buttermilk brought slowly to the boil (or just below it) will make a very nice farmer’s cheese.
  5. The bottle I pour my cream in is usually a little warm from the boiling which I like because that will take the chill off the cream a bit. You want your cream to be at room temperature for the fermentation process. Old-school butter makers used to just let their cream sit overnight at room temperature to allow the milk to being to culture naturally. They did not add buttermilk. The theory behind the culturing is that cream that is slightly acidified comes together as butter easier then fresh sweet cream. Instead of setting the cream out all night, I take the chill off my cream in the warm bottle and add buttermilk. Again, though raw milk will acidify on its own, I encourage a quicker fermentation (culturing) process by adding the buttermilk.
  6. I stir my mixture and then put it in an insulated cooler that has had warm 75 degree water put in it. If it is warm in the house I let the mixture sit out. At this point, the entire process has only taken me 5 minutes. So that’s the fast part.
  7. Whether I have placed it in the cooler with warm water or left it out at room temperature, I all it to sit about 4 – 6 hours. If I start culturing the cream in the morning I will be able to make, or “churn” the butter by noon.
  8. After 4 hours I put the bottle of cream in a bowl with ice water to cool it a bit. Cream for churning likes to be warm during the culturing process and cool when its churned. I let it sit till it is cool which, depending on the temperature it was when it went in, could take up to ten minutes. I do not want it all together chilled, just 60 degrees or so to assist in the churning.
  9. After letting the cream cool to 60 degrees I shake the bottle (lid attached) up and down to begin the agitation of the fat globules. Shaking the bottle, versus using an electric beater, incorporates more air and produces great volume. Whipping it in a mixer just gets cream everywhere on the mixer and walls. It is much better to keep it all contained in a bottle.
  10. Churning butter in a bottle will take anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes. Less if all the conditions for proper churning are aligned. Be patient and don’t give up. It will happen. Slowly you will see the little butter globules forming. At first they will be very suspended in the cream (now separated from the butter globules to become buttermilk) but in another minute or two of shaking (and I start slowing down the speed of my shaking towards the end) it will separate out completely. When you open the bottle you will see a separate mass at the top of the bottle. That is your butter.
  11. I pour the entire contents of the jar through a sieve that has been lined with a boiled and cooled sheet of muslin and set it over a bowl. I use this same muslin over and over but make sure it is boiled both before and after using it. This muslin (or butter cloth as it is sometimes referred to) has a tighter weave than cheese cloth. An old and slightly worn sheet will do the trick if it has been cleaned, boiled and has its color set. A friend of mine once had her cheese turn multicolored from a piece of cloth that did not have its dyes fully set.
  12. After the buttermilk has flown through the cloth-lined sieve, you will have a soft wad of butter remaining in the cloth. the buttermilk will have flown through to the bowl. Gathering up the corners of the cloth to create a sling for my soft butter, I submerge the parcel in an ice cold water bath swaying it back and forth to start removing some of the milk solids that are yet attached to the butter mass. Removing all these milk solids allows for a longer shelf live because it is these solids that will go rancid quickly. I repeat the process a number of times with clean ice water, just dunking and swishing my butter parcel around in the bowl to “wash” it and, at the same time, help to chill the butter. when the water runs near clear (no longer cloudy from the milk solids) and the butter is cool, I empty the contents of the parcel into another bowl. At this point your are going to remove whatever remaining liquid (milk and water) that is left in the butter.
  13. To do this you take a spatula (also very clean) and start pushing the butter back and forth until you see puddles of water forming in the bottom of the bowl. I tilt the bowl to remove this water and start again. I do this four or five times and even blot the butter with a paper towel if I see water droplets on the butter that will not pour off (save that towel for greasing a pan or muffin tin if you like).
  14. As a point of reference, the less water found in butter (and “european style can have 10-20% less then many american brands) the flakier the pastry is when made with it. I do not use my home-made butter for baking for the same reason I do not make cheese. I do not have enough cream or milk around to give me the quantities necessary for baking. I rather use it for spreading on toast.

After all this work I generally get no more than a half cup of butter. What a lot of work you are thinking. Yep, I agree. But I also have the buttermilk I turn into other things, both for drinking and baking. The buttermilk you buy in the store is really pasteurized skim milk that has had a culture introduced to it. That is why it is thick. Old fashioned buttermilk is the stuff left over after the cream has turned to butter and is loose in texture. I am sure I could “culture” my cream with the “old-fashioned” leftover buttermilk (assuming I used in within a week) though I have never done it. Makes sense though.

Though it is time consuming, making butter return you to the spirit of regional cooking. It is about making good on what you have on hand and sometimes embellishing it. When I am feeling really frilly, I spread my softened butter into molds meant for candy making and chill it in the freezer (makes for easier removal from the mold). When they come out they have the mark of the design and are cute beyond compare. Flavored with something exotic, truffles or lavender, or common like garlic and herbs, these butter parcels become fit for gift giving which I have done from time to time. But be forewarned, serving them aside dinner rolls when you are having guests will generally illicit contempt. Evidently nobody (or the occasional some body) likes a show off.


  1. Debbie Fox says

    I have been buying raw milk & making butter for about 2 years. But my raw milk butter has a different smell & taste. I’m not crazy about it and my kids don’t like it. I use it for cooking and it works fine, but just to spread on toast….bleh! I don’t follow your format exactly–I leave my cream out a few hours, then make the butter without re-chilling. I rinse. I press out excess water/whey. Is there something I’m not doing correctly? Or, is that just how raw milk butter is?

    • says

      Debbie, assuming you like the taste of your raw milk prior to making it into butter, I would try this recipe verbatim. Harriet knows what she is doing and I’ve tasted her raw butter and it’s very good – on bread, scones, and many other things. After following her recipe and you are still having a problem, please let me know.

  2. Rachel johnson says

    This was the best video ever! That I found on the internet. I searched and searched for a how to video on making butter and they all said use heavy cream and it got me thinking so were does heavy cream come from. What I wanted to see was how to make butter from the cow to raw milk to the cream to the butter. Thankyou for making this video and your very pleasant to listen too. Now im gonna go buy a jersey cow lol!

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