Homemade Butter

November 4, 2009(updated on July 1, 2022)
1/2 pint salted butter

When I was growing up, I regularly begged my mom to tell me stories of when she was a little girl. As I grew, she began to run out of little girl stories and so started to progress to teen-age stories and tales of her college years (I imagine they were somewhat censored, at least during my younger days).

Once, she recounted the story of a college professor who welcomed students on the first day of classes with a jar, a marble and a pint of heavy cream. He’d pour the cream into the jar, drop in the marble, screw on the lid and hand it to a student in the first row, explaining that he wanted everyone to introduce themselves. When you had the jar, it was your turn to talk. Oh, and you had to keep shaking the jar while you talked. How else would they have butter at the end of class?

A child of the grocery store revolution, this was the first time my mom had experienced the alchemy of butterfat. She shook vigorously during her turn, transfixed by how something that had once been a smooth liquid was transforming into something new.

Of course, as soon as she told me this story, I began a campaign for homemade butter. It took a while, but I did eventually wear her down and we made butter, just like she had done all those years ago (although, knowing how much effort is required to shake a pint of cream into butter, I can’t imagine we followed entirely through. I bet my mom ended up finishing it off in the kitchen with some hand beaters.


These days, the urge to make my own butter still does occasionally strike, particularly when I’m faced with wonderful local cream, like I was last Saturday at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. I bought a quart of said cream and Sunday night, at the end of a long day of cooking, I made butter (thinking all the while about Laura Ingalls and her pioneer sisters). I cheated though, as I used my mixer as opposed to shaking, churning or otherwise putting my own elbow grease into the process.

Here’s how I do it: I pour the cream into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid, which I’ve fitted with the paddle attachment. I crank the bowl into place and drape a clean dish towel over the machine. Only after I’ve installed this very basic splash guard, do I turn the mixer on to it’s second level. Then I walk away and let the thing run for 7 to 10 minutes.

When I come back, I make sure to turn the motor off before removing the towel to check on my progress. Best case scenario, there will be floes of butter drifting in a sea of buttermilk. If not, replace the towel and run a bit more. If you do have butter, position a strainer above a bowl, detach the mixing bowl and pour the butter/buttermilk into the strainer. Lift the strainer off the buttermilk bowl and rest it above the mixing bowl.

Set aside the buttermilk (I pour it back into the bottle from whence the cream came and use it in a variety of baked goods until it’s all gone) and return to the butter. Plop it back into the mixing bowl and get a sturdy wooden spatula. Start working the butter, pressing the remaining buttermilk out of it (if you want to salt your butter, this is a good time to do it, as it will get well integrated in the pressing process). A couple of times, rinse the butter with very cold water, in order to help wash the buttermilk out of the butter (you won’t lose all the salt).

When you’ve pressed out all the buttermilk you can, and the butter appears smooth and of an even consistency, pack it into half pint jars. If you’ve made more than you can use in about a week’s time, freeze some of it, as I’ve found that homemade butter goes off more quickly than the commercial stuff.

After reading all that, you might wonder why a person would make their own butter, when it can be bought cheaply with far less effort. Well, as with many things, you appreciate it more when you do it yourself. Additionally, making it yourself means that there won’t be any stabilizers or preservatives in it. Lastly, it just tastes better when you make it in your own kitchen.

I started making my own butter sometime last year, after I realized that I had developed an expensive imported butter habit. My cream comes from cows who graze within my 100 mile food shed and the processing is all my own. Mmm, butter.

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19 thoughts on "Homemade Butter"

  • Mmmmmm, I haven’t made my own butter since I was 7 for a class experiment. I may have to give it another go.

  • I love your mom’s story. What a neat idea! I wish I was teaching a big lecture class just so that I could do that.

  • When I was in fourth grade I made my own butter for a class presentation which I remember as a slight disaster. I have recently thought of making my own, but I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. Sounds like I’ll have to give it a try.

  • A marble? Sounds to me like it would break the jar!

    I’ve made butter by shaking a jar of cream – no marble required. And it doesn’t take THAT long. 10 minutes or so.

  • What a great story your mom has! I never made butter as a kid, but we made almost everything else from scratch (including peanut butter).

    I currently make raw milk butter weekly, it’s the only kind we eat. Since we have a herd share from a farm (the only legal way to get raw milk in Ohio), we have an abundance of fresh milk and cream.

    One tip I have if you’re making it in a jar (which is how I do it). If you use a jar much bigger than the amount of butter your cream turns into butter much faster (I think this is in place of using a marble). I use a 1/2 gallon canning jar and fill it about 1/3-1/2 full of cream. It only takes about 10 minutes for it to turn in to butter. I’ve also read that having the cream as close to 60-65 degrees helps the butter form more quickly.

    If you’d like to make cultured butter you can add yogurt to your cream and let it sit overnight, or if you have access to raw milk cream all you have to do is let it sit overnight (I sometimes go 2 days if I want really flavorful butter). Cultured cream also forms butter much quicker than sweet cream.

  • A nice story.

    My story is that I let the mixer on too long and made butter! Thanks to your story I need to do it again. It tasted great.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • What a great way to make butter – will have to try it. One day my kindergarten teacher (early 60’s) brought out a gallon size glass butter churn with wooden paddles and we took turns cranking. Wish I had that now – just for looks tho, I would use your method to actually make the butter! I think my grandmother must have had an electric model – she made butter but I don’t remember hand cranking.

  • we make homemade butter from fresh cream almost every week. in fact, it is really the only butter i enjoy on toast with jam! ..and a lot of it! i shake it in a jar, to music. 😉

  • I remember making butter in girl scouts. We passed the container around, shaking it, until one girl decided to shake it with really big motions and the lid flew off…

  • My mother made butter a few times just this way and it was heaven. I’ve been thinking I’d like to give it a try too. That expensive imported butter is awfully tasty, but homemade has got to be better.

  • When I was first teaching I stupidly bought table cream instead of whipping cream – thinking it was the same stuff. Yeah, table cream has stabilizers in it to prevent the globs of fat from joining hands in a marvelous, butter-creating way. Their little arms were beat by the end of the morning, and no butter.


  • Mom only made butter once…but that was plenty for someone that didn’t cook that much.

    What she loved to do was, after I picked up our 3 liters of raw milk from the neighbor, we’d boil it (she was a freak about sterilizing everything, after all, we lived in MX) and after the milk boiled, you’d be left with a fatty top layer of creamy stuff that we call nata. She’d would then use it to make gorditas de nata, a sweet and delicious treat…hmm…i think i’m going to make some right now…

  • Wow homemade butter! I think I never even tried one… I’m already on my way to buy some really good cream! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  • So, what form of dairy to you start with… whole milk? Heavy cream? Buttermilk? Un-homogenized milk that has the separated cream at the top? I want to try it but I’m a little confused after reading the original post and the comments. Thanks!

  • If you live in Philadelphia and really want a treat, try making butter with Green Meadow Farm’s double cream (which can be found at the Fair Food Farmstand at the RTM). You won’t believe how much amazing butter you will get out of a quart. Also, I love to culture my cream first. Just add some cultured buttermilk or yogurt to a bowl of cream (maybe a 1/4 cup to a quart of cream), cover with a towel, and leave overnight in a warm spot. Then go through the churning process you mentioned. Seriously worth the extra effort!

  • For the past several years, as I was endeavoring to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve given my boys a pint jar with cream, and a couple of small balls of aluminum foil and a pinch of salt. They are tasked with shaking it until we have butter. We all are very thankful for fresh butter and the boys love to contribute to the meal.

  • My hubby & I have just recently started making our own butter & his mother has told the whole family about this & now they either want our recipe or us to make them some…lol… I will never buy butter from grocery store again ours is soooo much better. we are also getting ready to venture into making compound butters with it which is soooo good on different foods.