One of the first things that I did after moving to Fairbanks was to look into the possibility of getting raw milk. Of course, since it’s illegal to sell raw milk in most states, including Alaska, I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about finding a source. After looking around on Craigslist with no luck, I was ecstatic to find an add on Alaskaslist. If you’re unfamiliar with the semi-ridiculous process that anyone who doesn’t want overly processed supermarket milk has to go through, it’s usually something like this. A local farm cannot sell their raw milk legally, even though there’s plenty of demand for it. They can, however, sell a “share” in the cow, and then, as a “part owner” of the cow, you can get your weekly portion of milk.
I quickly called up the farm, and was thrilled to be able to start getting raw milk that week. I started out with a gallon of milk a week, slightly wondering if I would be able to use that much milk by myself, and then quickly surprised myself with the realization that I needed to increase to 1 1/2 gallons a week. Yes, that is a lot of milk for one person. I make 1/2 gallon of it into yogurt though, which I have for breakfast every morning, and I use the cream to make butter. AND, since the milk is not pasteurized, it doesn’t bother Joe like normal store-bought milk would. So, although he still doesn’t drink much of it, we are now able to use dairy in some of our baking, which is pretty exciting!
Making butter seemed very intimidating at first, since I have no electric devises to help simplify the process. After a lil bit of reading though, it seemed that the process could be easily accomplished with just a Mason jar and a marble. And it works like a charm! Simply pour about 2 cups of cream into a quart Mason jar, add a marble, and then shake it. It’s best to use cream that isn’t totally fresh, I’ve read, so I usually wait about 5 days after I get my milk to make the butter. It usually takes about 30-40 minutes for me, which isn’t that bad if you’ve got somewhere to share the shaking with!
After about 30 minutes, the butter starts to separate from the milk, at which point you can start shaking a bit more gently, since now you’re just trying to get all the little pieces of butter to hold together. Once you’ve got a ball of butter inside the jar, scoop it out and place it in a bowl. The leftover “buttermilk” in the jar can be used for whatever you want!
Now you need to make sure all of the buttermilk is out of your butter, or it will go bad. This is accomplished pretty simply, by pouring cold water over the butter, and “kneading” the butter with a wooden spoon. Repeat this process with fresh water a couple times until the water is clear and no longer milky looking. Now your butter is ready! You can knead in a little salt if you like, but I usually just leave it. I generally get about a cup of butter out of 2 cups cream.
After making a batch of butter, I usually freeze it until I have a couple weeks worth, and then we make ghee. Ghee is clarified butter, made by very slowly cooking the butter over low heat until all the milk solids separate out, the water evaporates, and you are left with a beautiful golden liquid of pure butterfat. The beauty of ghee is that it is a very nutrient rich food, and most people allergic to dairy are able to eat it, since the milk solids have been removed. It lasts for months, and can be used for long, slow frying since it doesn’t burn like butter would. Ghee is most commonly used in Indian cooking.
The key to making ghee is to have a very low heat source, otherwise the butter will burn. Our first attempt on our propane stove failed, and we were rather crestfallen for a bit, thinking our dreams of ghee were completely crushed. Not so, though! We quickly brainstormed for a bit, and decided that maybe a trivet set over the woodstove would do the trick. It did! It takes a much longer time, but we don’t really care, since it’s hands-off time, and we’re not using any propane either!
To make ghee, you set the butter in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, and melt slowly. Do not disturb the butter at all from this point on! As the butter melts, the milk solids will separate into a layer on top and on bottom. After about 5-10 minutes, the butter will bubble & crack a lil bit, releasing some steam, and a layer of white foam will form on the top. Let the butter cook gently for about 45 minutes without stirring; it will cook down a bit. It takes us longer, over our woodstove, which is fine. Slow is good! The key is to not do it too fast.
Remove from the heat and carefully skim off and discard the top crusty layer, which will look like a soft topping of bread crumbs – this is how I know when it’s done – does it look bread crumb-ish yet? Slowly pour most of the ghee through a very find strainer or several layers of cheesecloth, being careful to leave behind any foam from the top or darkened solids on the bottom of the pan. The ghee will be a beautiful clear yellow. Keep in an airtight jar and store in a cool, dark place. Can be refrigerated, but doesn’t need to be.