Making Butter

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Listen to Dr. Lisa Chirlian show Kathy how to make butter
- follow along with the steps below!

(Note: this is not an experiment—because you can eat the results. This is a cooking project that shows how science is part of our everyday lives!)

Most people get butter from the supermarket, preformed into sticks or (sometimes) put in tubs. But, our ancestors had to make their own butter, one of the many chores of everyday life that we don’t typically have to do. But, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s fun to think about doing something old-fashioned like making your own butter. It’s surprisingly easy to do!

Before we try making it, let’s think about why butter forms. You probably know that shaking cream makes butter, but did you ever wonder why? How does a liquid turn into a solid? First, think about cream. It’s full of fat but it also contains water. Usually fat (oil) and water don’t mix, but in cream, the proteins and other parts of the cream help the fat stay spread out in the water. This type of solution is called an emulsion.

What keeps the fat from clumping together? A skin surrounds bits of fat that keeps them from sticking to each other. When something breaks the skin, the fat is able to form a solid clump. In the past, butter churns were used to make larger amounts of butter, but you can make small amounts of butter just by shaking cream. Or, if you have an electric mixer, you can make as little or as much butter as you want. It’s easy!

Homemade Butter

* Heavy cream
* Leak proof jar or electric mixer/bowl
* Shake it up! (The old-fashioned way)

1. Fill your jar about halfway with cream.
2. Close the lid, making sure that the jar doesn’t leak. (Mason jars are good for this because they have an airtight seal.)
3. Shake and observe. After about 5 minutes open the jar. The cream should change form a liquid to something creamy. This is whipped cream. (You can flavor it with a little sugar and vanilla and serve it on ice cream.)
4. Shake some more. After 5-10 more minutes, you will notice a liquid forming around some solid material. The solid material is the butter; the liquid is buttermilk.
5. Strain the butter. Rinse it in water a few times, kneading it with your (clean!) hands to get rid of all the buttermilk.
6. Store the butter in the refrigerator. It will not keep as long as commercially prepared butter.

Mix it up! (The modern way)
1. Pour the cream into the mixer bowl.
2. Start mixing, using a low speed so the cream doesn’t spatter. As the cream starts to thicken, you can raise the speed.
3. Observe. After a few minutes, the cream will thicken and become whipped cream. Keep going!
4. As you continue beating the cream, notice how the texture changes. The mixture will start to look a little lumpy. If you were making whipped cream, you would want to stop before this happens.
5. After a short time, the lumps will separate, leaving a thin liquid behind. At this point you have made butter. You can rinse and knead it as described above.