An Illustrated Guide to Making Goat Butter
All You Really Need
This is an easy skill that doesn't take a lot of special equipment or knowledge. Determination, a moderate amount of energy, and about an hour of time are the main requirements. In fact, with enough determination, you could probably churn goat butter in a mayonnaise or mason jar by shaking the cream in it...but I've never tried. I use an old Dazey churn, which I inherited, and which is not for sale.
Some other things you may want are:
- A wooden butter paddle (a regular rubber scraper will work in a pinch)
- A wooden butter mold - or several, depending on your whimsy. Molds come in different shapes and sizes, some with carvings which mold "freizes" onto the butter pats or pounds, and some which are plain Jane and nothing but functional.
If you don't have a churn, and can't beg, borrow, or buy one, you can use an electric mixer. The process is much the same (and undoubtedly faster), but done this way, it loses its charm . . . and the buttermilk splatters unmercifully.
Any plate or platter on which to turn it out will suffice for "working" the butter, and you'll want a medium or large bowl, should you choose to wash your butter.
In any case, it's not so much the equipment that matters as the mindset.
Not all Creams are Created Equal
Goat cream is thick, and because its molecules are smaller than those of cow cream, it suspends differently in the milk. In fact, most goat cream must be mechanically separated, as only a little will rise to the top of a container of milk. Some will stick to the sides, also, but don't expect to obtain enough cream for a family with only the scrapings from the sides and lids of your milk containers.
Because of this molecular difference, the cream does not appear as "little grains" of butter, floating in the buttermilk, as described in Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder). As I recall, Ma and the girls were churning cream from a Gurnsey or possibly a Jersey cow.
All this just means that if you have milk goats, and plan on turning the cream into butter for all your baking and bread-slathering needs, a cream seperator is a wise investment. It also means that the cream requires more "thrashing" than cow cream might, and that the jar-shaking method may prove unreliable.
As you collect your cream day by day, just scrape it into a disposable freezer box, and pop the box into the freezer between milkings. Or, if you buy your cream commercially, get enough to fill your churn half to two-thirds full. My churn requires about two quarts per churning.
What is Buttermilk?
Before you spoon your cream into your churn, there are a few more things you should know about it. If you freeze the cream and then thaw it, you will see rivulets of yellowish liquid running between the particles of cream, or perhaps sitting in a puddle or even a lake on top of it. This is buttermilk. This is the non-fat part of the cream, and, while you can use it for pancakes or for drinking fresh, know that it is not like commercial buttermilk, and may not perform the same in all recipes. Commercial, or "cultured" buttermilk, is just that - cultured. This means that a small amount of buttermilk (or something like it) was added to milk, and allowed to work through it until the milk turned tart.
You should also know that just because you start out with two quarts of cream does not necessarily mean you will wind up with two quarts of butter. This is because of the buttermilk. Some batches, I end with almost as much as I started with, and others, I wind up with only half - or less - of what I started with. You can usually get a general idea of your yield by looking at how soupy your cream appears. If it sloshes all over as you churn, you will get much less butter than if it climbs the sides of your churn or mounds up in the corners.
To save yourself time and trouble, you can sometimes carefully pour off some of the buttermilk before beginning to churn.
I begin by filling my churn half to two-thirds full of raw goat cream - enough so that the paddles have a good amount to beat against, but not so full that the cream mounds up over the tops of the paddles, and makes it difficult to see what's happening.
This was a sloppy batch, which yielded only 3 1/2 cups of butter. As soon as I turned the crank, the buttermilk coated the glass from top to bottom, so I had to take the lid off to check progress (my churn doesn't have a peek hole in the lid).
You can expect to crank away for 10 or 15 minutes, depending on factors such as the heat of both your butter and the house, the amount of buttermilk, and perhaps even what the goats were fed. You can hold the churn on a tabletop, or in your lap. I usually hug it to my chest, or between my knees, with a corner resting on my chair.
The cream will begin by looking rather lumpy and perhaps pock-marked or grainy. Eventually, it will begin to separate out from the buttermilk, and will set up in the corners or form lumps. Don't stop churning until the butter is satiny smooth, and the churning gets hard. With experience, you'll be able to mostly tell what stage the butter is in by how much it resists the paddles. It usually seems like nothing is happening for the first 10 minutes, and then - voila! - it sets up and you've got butter.
As the butter forms, the buttermilk will trickled down the mounds and sometimes pool at the bottom. I usually don't get more than a tablespoon or three.
As soon as your butter is smooth, turn it out, a cup or two at a time, onto the platter. You're ready to work out the buttermilk with your paddle or scraper.
If you have a choice in the matter, opt for a proper, wooden butter paddle instead of a rubber scraper. The paddle seems to manipulate the butter in a way that rubber cannot....perhaps because the wood sucks up some of the buttermilk...perhaps because it is wood, and therefore natural.
Work the butter by turning it over into itself, similar to kneading, until the buttermilk runs out. Set a dish on your work surface, into which you can tilt the platter to drain the drops of buttermilk.
Old butter making instructions always say to work every drop out, or you will produce bitter butter. I have not found this to be so, but then, I'm not working with cow products. They also say to rinse the butter in very cold water. Again, I don't usally do this, because I can't tell that it makes any noticeable difference. (Maybe with cow butter, it does.) If you like salted butter, add sea salt to taste. I don't salt mine, because I like it simple and sweet.
I also don't color mine. Goat products are white, no matter the time of year or the grazing conditions. Ma Ingalls, I remember reading, colored her winter butter with carrot juice. There are special colorings available on the market if you don't like white butter.
Package it however you like, and you're done. I don't often use my 1-lb. mold, as it is too big to be practical for my family. As my children grow, I may find it to be ideal. For now, I prefer to use recycled 1-cup yogurt containers, begged off of friends who don't yet make their own. However you package your butter, label it carefully!
Cooking and Use Tips
Goat butter is not like cow butter in taste. It tends to be "gamier" and, depending on the practices of the producer from whom you get your cream, can vary drastically from batch to batch. Therefore, we don't usually spread it on bread. (Goats that have been eating cottonwood leaves are the exception to the rule. Cottonwood leaves make the sweetest milk and butter imaginable.)
However, even "bad" goat butter works fantastically in baking. It melts evenly and easily, blends well with other ingredients, and does not add "off" tastes to most things.
Be aware, though, that because it melts more easily than commercial cow butter, it will affect the "spread" of your cookies and other baked goods. So if you like cookies that pile up high and round, you may not want to use goat butter exclusively.
If you use it for sauteeing, it may seem like you need more than of cow butter. This is because it is difficult to pack all the air out when packaging it.
Goat butter makes fine herb-infused "holiday" spreads, and is excellent with mashed potatoes and meats.
Raw goat butter will mold, when left alone in the fridge too long (sometimes those little containers get lost). I also don't leave goat butter out on the counter, as it's usually soft enough straight out of the fridge.
If it molds (a yellow or green tinge), just scrape off the spoiled parts and carry on. If you've left it long enough to turn pink...throw it out. That indicates the mold has permeated the interior.
I use only raw cream and milk, as pasteurization has more against it than it has going for it. I obtain my cream from a small farmer who has not industrialized his operation. Therefore, he can watch each animal at milking time and separate out any milk that may contain infectious agents.