A Great Share from Ann Lovejoy

A celebrated author, cook, and all round good soul, who also happens to be my Sis!

Green Gardening with Ann Lovejoy
Green Gardening with Ann Lovejoy

Check out this gem from her Blog – great stuff for mixologists and cooks – these augmented syrups will shine in a bright gastrique, or when adding a hint of sweetness to dressings, sauces, marinades, and wet rubs.

This is a perfect example of a thing that separates good cooks from great ones – that little transformative twist that makes for extraordinary results.

Infused simple syrups are golden for many, many things
Infused simple syrups are golden for many, many things

Check it, give them a try, and sign up to get her blog fresh to your email so you won’t miss a one!

P.S. And if you’re a gardener and don’t have her books, well, shame on you! Get crackin’!

😁

Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca

On a chilly, rainy Saturday morning, M and I set out for the local farmer’s market in Bellingham. On arrival, we found a thriving and well attended scene – it’s a thing I love about towns like this – Rainy weather does nothing to dissuade Bellinghamsters from their appointed rounds, any more than snow and cold did the Concordians of my youth.

Rain doesn't stop Bellinghamsters
What struck us as particularly vibrant was the surprising number of small farms represented, most of which were organic. The fall bounty of chiles, tomatoes, sausage, and cheese set my dinner plan in mind – Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca. We made our leisurely rounds, then headed home to cook.

Great produce at the farmer's market
You’ll find some variant of the Chile Relleno, ‘stuffed peppers’, all over Mexico. Most often, the chile used will be Poblanos, and rest assured that the people who share the same name, (folks from the State of Pueblo), lay claim to the origins of that famous dish. That said, the amazing number and breadth of relleno variants indicates that pretty much anywhere chiles grow, they are and have been stuffed for a long, long time.

Oaxacan Chiles
The typical chile relleno is stuffed with cheese, coated in an egg batter, and fried. You’ll see that throughout Mexico, and of course, up here in the states as well. The Oaxacan version, however, is a bit more robust – It is, technically, a chile relleno de picadillo, meaning stuffed with cheese and shredded or minced meat; everything from goat and lamb, to pork, beef, or chicken is used, as is chorizo, that singularly delightful Mexican fresh sausage. The other hallmark of Oaxacan rellenos is the range of chiles used; they grow a dizzying variety down there, and whatever looks good and is in season is as likely as not to end up stuffed. That’s a good thing for us all to embrace, frankly – Each chile brings a different level of taste, heat, and color to a dish, and variety is indeed a wonderful thing.

Fresh chorizo
Chorizo, or chouriço, is not indigenous to Mexico; it is an import from the Iberian Peninsula, where both Spain and Portugal lay claim to its origins. While the Spanish version uses smoked pork, the Mexican is made with fresh. There are as many varieties of chorizo as there are chiles, frankly, so defining The Real Recipe is a bit of a crap shoot. I’ve got a favorite recipe that I use, and I’ll share that here. I make Chorizo as a loose sausage, and you can too; it’s much simpler that way. If you’d rather buy and you’re from this neck of the woods, I’ll tell you that the Haggen’s version has been declared muy authentico by trusted Mexican friends, and after testing that claim, I agree wholeheartedly – It’s surprisingly good stuff. As promised, here’s my version.

Fresh Chorizo

2 pounds fresh ground local Pork
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1-2 teaspoons flaked or ground Chipotle Chile
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon flaked Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
3-5 Tablespoons Ice Water

Chill a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes prior to building the chorizo. Pork should be refrigerated right up to the point of assembly.
Combine all ingredients in the cold bowl and mix by hand until you have a homogenous blend. You should end up with a nice moist, deeply red sausage.
Transfer sausage to a airtight, non-reactive container and place it in the freezer for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Remove from freezer and refrigerate until ready to use.
If you’re not using the chorizo right away, wrap tightly in plastic, then aluminum foil and freeze.

Fresh Queso Blanco
The cheese used for this dish simply must be fresh queso blanco. This soft, non-aged white cheese also has its roots on the Iberian Peninsula, but has been wholeheartedly adopted throughout the Americas. Queso blanco is remarkably easy to make; if you’ve never given it a try, you really must. The caveat here is that ultra-pasteurized milk simply will not produce good cheese. You need something fresh and as local as possible – Since there’s no aging involved, and no culture added, this cheese will directly reflect the milk you make it from, (although you certainly can add herbs, veggies, etc if you like). While the ability to press this cheese will make a more consistent product, you really don’t need a dedicated press. Here’s how it’s done. Here again, you can find fresh queso blanco at many grocery stores these days, too.

You’ll need;
Non-reactive stock pot,
Steel mixing spoon,
Instant read thermometer,
Metal colander
Decent cheesecloth

Queso Blanco
1/2 gallon fresh whole milk, (no ultra-pasteurized)
6 teaspoons Live Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Salt to taste

In a stock pot over medium low heat, add the milk.
Stir occasionally and monitor temperature until milk reaches 185° F, about 10 minutes or so.
Reduce heat to low and add 2 teaspoons of vinegar, and stir gently. You will see curds begin to separate from the whey; going forward, stir very gently – The curds retain moisture, which you want, so stir them, don’t batter them.
After a minute or so add 2 more teaspoons of vinegar and stir.
Repeat with the last 2 teaspoons of vinegar after another minute or two.
Let the curds and whey rest for five minutes.
Once you’ve got well formed curds, continue to stir gently to keep the curds from clumping, (called matting in the cheese making parlance)
Spread cheesecloth over your colander. If you’d like to make ricotta with the whey, put the colander inside a mixing bowl; if not you can discard it.
Gently pour the curds into the lined colander. Add salt,(and any herbs or veggies), and mix gently by hand.
You can now hang the cheese in the cloth for 10 to 20 minutes if you prefer a dryer cheese. If not, (and thereafter if you do), it’s time to press the cheese. I’ve got a press, so that’s what I use; I realize 99% of y’all don’t have one, so here’s what you do:

Pressing the queso
Return the cloth wrapped cheese to the colander. Place a flat plate small enough to fit well within the colander on top of the cheese. Place a stock pot on top of the plate. Water weights 8 pounds a gallon. Start with one gallon of water and let the cheese sit for 20 minutes. Add 2 more gallons of water and continue pressing for 2 hours.
Remove cheese from cloth, wrap it in waxed paper and refrigerate until ready to use. Fresh queso will last for 3 to 4 days refrigerated.

And finally, the rellenos.

Chiles Rellenos de Oaxaca for 4, (or a hungry two, or leftovers…)
4 Poblano Chiles
1/2 Pound Chorizo
1/2 Pound Queso Blanco
1 14.5 ounce can Tomatoes
1/4 Cup diced Sweet Onion
2 tablespoons minced, toasted almonds
2 cloves minced Garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Cinnamon
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to season
Olive Oil
Canola Oil or Lard for frying

For the Batter
4 Egg Whites
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour
Pinch Sea Salt
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour for dredging

To a sauté pan over medium heat, add chorizo and cook until lightly browned and no pink shows.
Add minced almonds and continue cooking until they’re lightly toasted.
Remove chorizo blend from pan into a small bowl.
Add diced queso to chorizo/almond mix, and incorporate. Set aside.

queso-chorizo blend
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan and scrape all the little chorizo remnants loose.
Add onions and sauté until they start to turn translucent.
Add garlic and sauté until raw garlic smell dissipates.
Add tomatoes to sauté pan and heat through, stirring to incorporate, until sauce starts to simmer.
Add cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally.
Heat oven to Broil and place a rack on a high setting.
Place chiles on a baking sheet and broil until the skins begin to blister, turning steadily to get all sides evenly seared.
Remove chiles from oven and set onto a plate to cool.
Set oven to bake at 300° F and set a rack to a middle position.
When chiles are cooled enough to handle, carefully cut the stem and seed cluster free from each chile and discard.
Carefully stuff each chile with equal volumes of the chorizo/queso mixture. Set stuffed chiles on a plate.

Rellenos ready to stuff
Add 1/2 cup oil or lard to a frying pan over medium high heat to 350° F.
Set 1/2 cup of flour onto a plate or shallow dish for dredging.
Beat egg whites, with a pinch of salt added, to a stiff peak, then add a tablespoon of flour and beat to incorporate.
Carefully roll chiles in flour, one at a time, then roll them through the egg whites to coat.
Carefully place chiles in hot oil and fry until golden brown, turning carefully onto each side, about 3 to 4 minutes total.
Carefully place chiles on a baking sheet and slide that into the oven. Bake chiles for 15 minutes at 300° F.
To serve, ladle a generous dose of tomato sauce into a bowl, and add a relleno to each.

Chiles rellenos de Oaxaca
Top with sour cream and fresh chopped cilantro.
I’m certainly not going to tell you how to eat your dinner, but I will say this – The real joy of this dish is to break up the relleno in the tomato sauce until you’ve got an even, kind of chili-like consistency – Doing that lets all the ingredients blend together in each bite – And it is amazing, indeed.

Cooking at the Gathering

So, a couple weeks ago, I didn’t post, because, as luck and joy would have it, I was 1600 miles from home, at my other home for a few precious days. Formally known as The Luthier Community Gathering, this is an annual event held in the north woods of Minnesota. Hosted by Grant Goltz and Christy Hohman at their incredibly eclectic and homey spread, this is several days of companionship, renewed and new friendships, music, incredible house made beer and ale, and of course, food.   

Over the years, I’ve become the official Chef de Gathering, and it is a joy of joys to do. Over the three days of the main event, we feed somewhere around 30 to 40 folks for dinner, and maybe 12 to 20 for breakfasts and lunches. While some folks bring a little of this and a little of that, Chris and I provide the mainstays, (and usually Monica, who couldn’t make the trip this year due to a new job). And rank has its privilege – I get my own incredibly cozy Chef apartment, and an incredible kitchen to work from.


 For such a big crowd, the process is incredibly easy. At some point, we’ll touch base and decide on theme, main ingredients, etc – it rarely takes more than a couple minutes. I say, “Hey Chris, what are we gonna build?” She fires off some options, inspiration takes hold, and off we go. 

 The real joy comes not only from feeding good friends in a great kitchen, but in the gathering of ingredients. Grant and Christy run a Community Supported Agriculture, (CSA), operation on their spread, so the variety and scope of produce is truly stunning, as you can see.  So, picking ingredients means just that; heading out on the trail with basket in hand, and coming back with the bounty. 

  
  
 This year marked the first truly amazing mushroom harvest, from logs inoculated and set up last season – Shiitakes, an almost embarrassing wealth of gorgeous, just picked beauties – I put them in everything I could think of, (and I did say ‘almost’).

  

  
Our mutual friends, John and Lissa Sumption, have a working CSA close by, (King’s Gardens), so literally anything we don’t have right on hand can be had with a phone call. During my visit, Mark, the very talented local butcher, stopped by and dropped off some goodies, for which he took produce in barter. The results speak for themselves.  

  
 Our recent piece on apples contains several of the recipes we did this year. Here’s the recipe for smoked Guacamole – It’s become a must-do for the event ever since we debuted it seven or eight years ago.


The Annual Gathering is open to any and all who love music, good friends, and good food. Here’s a video and a song that pretty well sums up the vibe. It’s held in August every year. This year, a dear friend from my wildfire fighting days, Nancy Swenson, made the trip out – First time we’d seen each other in thirty four years!

Lamb Merguez & House Made Harissa – North African Specialties

My friend David Berkowitz is a true renaissance guy; on any given day, he might be mixing sound at Wolf Trap, or building guitars of truly sublime beauty and power; often enough, he follows that up with some very inspired cooking. I’ve seen great dishes with influences from French, through Middle Eastern and North African come from his talented hands. The former launched this question the other day.

“Do you have a good recipe for lamb merguez? The ones I’ve found around here are mostly beef and then end up having kind of a gritty texture. Not sure why that is.”

As always, big thanks for asking; first, let’s look at that grainy issue. Merguez is highly spiced, and on top of that, if those makers close to Dave are using mostly beef, I can see a few potential issues. My first suspect would be not processing at cold enough temperatures – With as much dry spice as merguez boasts, you need to make sure that everything is really cold – Meat semi-frozen, spices fully chilled, and all vessels frozen throughout production. If those steps aren’t taken, then I’d think the chance of ingredients separating is quite high, and that’s the number one reason sausage will get grainy. Secondly, beef is quite marbled compared to lamb, or at least the most common sausage making cuts are, so potentially one could have a meat/fat ratio issue there. And finally, for a relatively heavily spiced sausage like this, you pretty much gotta add a bit of liquid after grinding and work that into the mix before stuffing.

Merguez is a French derivation of the Berber word for sausage, mirqaz. This is a fresh sausage, bright red before cooking, made from mutton or lamb, and heavily laced with North African spices – chiles, garlic, fennel, and cumin are dominant notes. The characteristic red color comes from paprika and harissa, a Tunisian chile paste. While some recipes just add chile flake or powder, as far as I’m concerned it’s not the real deal unless it includes harissa, and that too should be home made. We make ours with roasted red Hatch and Serrano chiles, and it’s got all the heat you need – Knowing David as I do, I’ll bet his version will have Habaneros in it, if not ghost chiles – He’s that kinda chile head…

Traditionally, Merguez is stuffed in lamb casing, and you can get those online from Butcher & Packer, Amazon, etc, but frankly, there’s nothing wrong with using beef or even synthetic if that’s what you like. Served with a nice couscous and a cucumber salad with yoghurt sauce, you’ve got a truly fabulous meal.

First off, here’s the harissa; refrigerated, it’ll last a couple weeks in an airtight container. It’s great with all kinds of meats, veggies, and even eggs.

Harissa - Tunisian Chile Paste

Urb’s Harissa

5 red Hatch New Mexican Chiles

5-7 fresh Serrano Chiles

3 cloves Garlic

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1 teaspoon Coriander

1 teaspoon Caraway Seed

1/2 teaspoon Cumin

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

Set oven to broil and a rack on the highest setting.

Place whole chiles on a dry sheet pan and roast, turning steadily, until skins are blackened uniformly.

Pull chiles from oven and set aside to cool.

Combine coriander, caraway, and cumin in a spice grinder and pulse until uniformly blended and powdered.

Remove skins and stems from cooled chiles. If you’re a heat weenie, use gloves when processing them, and you might want to remove some or all of the seeds, (but you should feel shame for doing that, because this stuff is meant to pack a punch.)

Smash garlic, peel, and remove nibs from both ends.

Load all ingredients but the salt in a blender or processor and pulse to a uniform paste.

Add half the salt, pulse again and taste; adjust salt as needed.

Store refrigerated, in an airtight, glass container.

 

And here’s the sausage. If you have access to local grass fed lamb, that’s what you want; the benefits of that far outweigh commercially packed stuff. Whatever you get, make sure it’s as fresh as can be. Lamb gets a bad rep for being funky, but to be honest, that has far more to do with how the animal is raised and fed than it does the meat itself. Lamb fat is more piquant than beef, but the beauty of lamb is that the fat isn’t marbled into the meat nearly as much, so when you trim, you can remove exactly as much of the fat as you like, and end up with beautiful, lean meat to work with. Lamb fat is traditional for Merguez; you can add some pork or beef as well, if you like. I use 50% – 50% lamb and pork fat; that balance makes a sausage that many folks really enjoy.

NOTE: I use a Kitchenaid grinder and stuffer attachment, so I’ve got a stand mixer basically set up when I build this sausage. If you have a dedicated grinder, prep your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached before you start.

 

Real Deal Merguez Sausage, (Makes 4 pounds of pre-cooked sausage)

3 Pounds Lamb Shoulder

1 Pound Lamb, Pork, or Beef Fat

1/2 Cup Harissa

1/4 – 1/2 Cup Ice Water

6 cloves Garlic (pick uniformed sized ones)

2 Tablespoons hot, sweet Paprika

2 Tablespoons Sea Salt

2 teaspoons Fennel Seed

2 teaspoons Cumin

2 teaspoons Coriander

1-2 teaspoons Sumac

Natural Casings, 28mm to 32mm

NOTE: Sumac has a tart, citrusy flavor that is potent and complex. Try a dab on your fingertip and decide how much you like it, then add either 1 or 2 teaspoons.

 

Have all spices and Harissa refrigerated and thoroughly chilled.

Meat needs to be semi-frozen prior to production; I usually trim and size it, then lay it on a small sheet pan and put that in the freezer. All bowls need to be frozen as well.

Trim all gristle and connective tissue from lamb and fat.

Trim meat to size so that it’ll feed smoothly through your grinder.

Set grinder up with a coarse plate for your first run.

Casings should be thoroughly rinsed, inside and out, then soaked in warm water for 30 minutes prior to stuffing.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add fennel, cumin, and coriander; toast spices, (staying right with it, ’cause they can burn really quickly), mixing with a fork for 1 – 2 minutes until their fragrance tells you they’re done. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Smash, peel, trim ends from garlic, then mince and set aside.

Transfer cooled spices to a grinder and process to a uniform powder.

Transfer ground spice to a small mixing bowl, add sumac, paprika, and sea salt, blend thoroughly, and set aside.

Set one of your chilled bowls up inside a slightly larger bowl with plenty of ice in it – snug your receiving bowl down into the larger so it’s well iced.

Run fat and meat through your grinder.

Add spice blend, harissa, and garlic to ground meat and combine thoroughly by hand. Return grind to freezer.

Set your grinder up for a second run with a fine plate, with the same iced set up for your receiving bowl.

Set a small sauté pan over medium high heat.

Transfer bowl with sausage grind to your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached. Add half the ice cold water and process at fairly low speed, (2 or 3), until you’ve fully incorporated the water, about 1 minute. Sausage should be moist and slightly sticky; if it’s not quite right, continue mixing and add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until you get there.

Hand form a small patty of the sausage, (about 3″ around and 1/4″ thick), and return the rest to the fridge. Cook the patty through, 1 – 2 minutes per side. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you add more seasoning, blend with the paddle on the mixer. You can add another teaspoon or so of water, if needed.

Set up your grinder for stuffing; fill about 3/4 full and twist into 6″ links. Coil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to cooking.

Merguez - Spicy North African Sausage
Merguez stands out with its bright red color

Merguez should be cooked over wood or charcoal. Once you’ve got nice, glowing coals and a preheated, brushed, and lightly oiled grate, grill to an internal temperature of 155° F. Allow a 5 minute rest prior to serving.

Merguez - Spicy a North African Sausage

 

 

 

Better Butter

Alert follower Jenn writes,

“I was surprised to see no post on fresh made butter in the UrbanMonique archives. Chris got me a rotary butter churn for Christmas and it's been one of my favorite gifts in memory. Of course, we've done fresh pepper butter, dilly butter, rosemary and lemon peel, and obviously brown sugar and cinnamon. I know it can be done with ease in a stand mixer, but the rotary is fun to pass around at brunch parties or before dessert is served. I'm just curious to see what you'd put in butter given your expansive spice collection and superior wisdom.”

Knowing this young Texan as I do, I'm still not sure if that last line is her being a smartass or not… In any event, I'm cool with it, because she sent me filĂ© that she grew and dried and powdered her very own self, and she's a hell of a good cook to boot.

She's also got an excellent point. Having relocated to an area rich in local dairy, we revel in fresh milk, cream, butter, and eggs. If you can get your paws on fresh cream where you live, making your own butter and compound butters is easy, and a true delight. We'll cover both herein, as well as delving into the history and chemistry a bit.

First, let's address a couple of core issues.

The Butter Is Evil mantra. If you're late to this party, let me formally state for the record that it's simply not so. The premise raised in the '60's and touted for several decades, to the effect that animal fats cause heart disease, has been roundly rejected. While it's true that there are plenty of fine alternative vegetable fats, the artificial pantheon that replaced butter has been banned from our pantry for all time. The facts bear out that food from properly pastured animals is actually quite healthy. In particular, butter from grass fed cows is high in nutrients like vitamins E, A, beta carotene, and essential fatty acids. That last caveat, grass fed, also happens to yield butter that is notably tastier than that from grain fed cows.

The Cow Monopoly. There are thousands of species of mammal across our world, and all of them produce milk, yet here in the U.S.A., roughly 97% of our dairy products come from cows. Even at our quite enlightened local Co-Op, there are only a couple of goat milk options. Granted, when we turn to cheese, we find offerings from goat, sheep, and buffalo, but cow is still the king, hands down. Elsewhere in the world, folks drink camel, yak, water buffalo, elk, reindeer, and even mare's milk on a regular basis. 99.9% of those critters are ruminants, mammals whose four-chambered stomachs yield prodigious quantities of milk from high-fiber, low-nutrient pasturage. On top of that feat, ruminants sport large, graspable teats that makes milking easy for humans, (hence, cats and dogs are safe for the time being). Goat, sheep, and cows were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 years ago. While all three have since been intensively bred to improve temperament and output, cows have far and away ruled the roost.

The Middle Eastern ancestor of the milk cow was the auroch, which went extinct in the 17th century. While wild aurochs were a handful, domestication quickly yielded a critter that quietly lines up to be milked, and produces about 100 pounds of milk a day. That docile nature sets cows apart from most other ruminants, including, as a for instance, the water buffalo. Bred for milking to this day in Italy and India, water buffalo are notoriously cranky, and considering their size, quickness, and very large horns, they're potentially downright dangerous to the milker.

Here in America, the last great ice age that swept through around 20,000 years ago effectively removed all large ruminants, with the exception of the bison. When Europeans showed up with cows, they not only did just fine, they genuinely thrived. The easy separability of cow's milk lends itself to a broad spectrum of things humans like to eat, the fat content is quite close to human milk, and it's widely tolerated by human digestive systems. Goat's milk, on the other hand, is richer and more complex in flavor, predominately because the cream does not separate as it will in cows milk. Goats produce the most milk of any ruminant by body size, but they're so much smaller than cows that the advantage is null. That lack of cream separation also means that goat milk won't readily make butter, either. As for the third member of the Fertile Crescent troika, almost nobody in this country drinks sheep’s milk. With twice the fat of cow and human milk, it's far too rich to be popular, and the overall low yield weighs against them from a commercial production standpoint. That fattiness does make sheep's milk near and dear to cheesmakers, however, for obvious and good reason.

On then, to butter, a part of the human diet for nigh onto 7,000 years. Through 99% of history, butter was cultured to enhance shelf life. Culturing allowed milk gathered in multiple milkings to last longer in the days before effective refrigeration; it also encourages cream to separate relatively quickly when churned. Raw cream is blessed with ample benign bacteria, so it will ferment and sour without the need for added cultures. This natural fermentation notably alters its chemistry, generating much more complex and subtle flavor profiles. One such flavor note stems from lactic acid, so cultured butter tends to taste tarter than uncultured, or sweet cream butter.

Chemically, butter is a relatively stable mixture of triglycerides from several fatty acids – predominantly oleic 31%, myristic 19%, palmitic 15%, and stearic 15%. The natural color of butter derives from trace amounts of carotene. Over time the glycerides break down, releasing free fatty acids; two of these, butyric and caproic acid, are largely responsible for the nasty smell of rancid butter.

Butter is made by churning cream. Exactly how and why churning works is still somewhat of a mystery; if that sounds unlikely, rest assured that it's not. Delve into the chemistry of churning at the university level, and you'll find analyses filled with detailed supposition and almost universally followed by the phrase, “not well understood.” While the process is ages old, there's still a PhD up for grabs there. What we surmise is that air is incorporated into the liquid matrix of cream as it begins to turn into butter. A foam forms, and fat globules collect in the walls of the bubbles. Churning warms the cream slightly, to the point that those fat globules soften and liquify. Further churning bounces the softened fat globules off each other enough to break their protective membranes, and liquified fat cements the exposed droplets together. Material from the broken membranes helps in this process, as it contains emulsifiers such as lecithin. Once enough of the liquified fats have been freed by the churning process, the air foam collapses and butter granules form into larger and larger masses.

Once thickened and separated into butter grains and buttermilk, the buttermilk is poured off. 50° F water, at 20% of the volume of the cream used, is then added to the fresh butter; this 'wash' helps it separate thoroughly from the buttermilk. Churning continues until the butter granules are about the size of wheat grains. As with many kitchen processes, precision is important, and often enough, the difference between a pro and an amateur. Making butter is easy; even little kids can do it. Making great butter takes a bit more discipline. If you buy really good, local Jersey cream as we do, you'll find that it's not cheap; it certainly deserves extra attention. Of course, back when everybody did this at home such knowledge was not as arcane as it is today.

A bit more on nomenclature: Sweet Cream Butter means simply butter made from cream that has not been fermented, or cultured. When first introduced to Americans in the late 19th century, it was not popular because consumers thought it tasted 'flat', a sentiment raised by the lack of complexity found in cultured butter. Nowadays, sweet cream butter in some form or another rules the supermarket roost, but not all are created equally. Sweet cream butter is the taste of the cream, pure and simple. If you make butter with fresh, local cream, you get the flavor of that particular terroir – The grass, sun, water, everything. It's sublime and truly lovely. As the seasons change, so will your butter. Change sources, and you've got a whole new pallete; taste, smell, and color will all vary. This is how it was before industrialization, when all butter was made locally. Back then, early spring butter commanded and received a higher price than any other.

Making butter at home, starting right now, will bring you back to where you belong; trust me when I say you'll be buying far less commercial butter in the days to come. From buttered veggies, to homemade baked goods, everything is notably better. And speaking of baked goods, expect the biggest difference therein. Homemade butter totes a higher percentage of butterfat than the industry standard 80%, so your baked goods will taste and feel better as a result. Cultured butter can also be made at home. If home made sweet cream butter is champagne, homemade cultured butter is caviar. Those subtly complex flavors must be experienced first hand. Doing so really isn't very much more work than making sweet cream butter, so do try it once you get in the swing of the basic process.

So, we need good cream to make all this wonderful stuff happen; the fresher, the better. If you have a choice, donor cow breed matters somewhat. Our favorite local dairy, Twin Brook Creamery, milks Jersey cows, the winner of the milk fat award. According to Iowa State University, (A pretty good judge of things dairy), Jersey's weigh in just shy of 5% fat in raw milk, as compared to Holsteins at 3.7%, which rounds out the two most popular milking cows – or put another way, the most popular breed's milk contains about 30% less fat than those Twin Brooks Jerseys. While there are other breeds making inroads, it's likely to take some time – the U.S.D.A. reports that Holsteins account for 90% of the U.S. milk cow population, followed by Jerseys at 7%, with all others at a paltry 3% combined.

Some of that milk gets made into cream, and at your local store or coop, the one you want for making butter is Heavy Cream. You may have heard or been told that this is synonymous with Whipping Cream, but it ain't necessarily so. To be called Cream in this country, dairy must contain no less than 18% milk fat. Half & half can run anywhere from 10% to 18%, so it's right out for butter making. Whipping Cream is at least 30% milk fat, and rarely more than that. Heavy Cream is no less than 36% milk fat, and that's our cream. If you're allowed to buy raw cream where you live, by all means do it. Raw cream needs nothing to yield all the glory of real, live butter. It's literally biologically active, packing its own culture, and it is absolutely redolent of its terroir. Your primary guide for what to buy is, naturally, what tastes best to you. Keep your cream refrigerated until you're ready to churn, and do so right away; time is the enemy of freshness.

OK, let's make butter.

In addition to cream, you need some form of churn. That's literally anything that can agitate the cream in until butterfat comes out of suspension and separates from the buttermilk. You can use a blender, mixer, food processor, canning jar, or a dedicated churn, (Lots of places sell manual and powered versions). Whatever you use should be in good working condition and clean before you start. I use a small processor powered by a stick mixer; it holds a pint of cream perfectly. I recommend a blender if you have one – they work well and keep everything nicely contained.

 

House Made Butter

1 Pint fresh Heavy Cream

Option: Pinch of Sea Salt

1/3 Cup 50° F Water

 

Remove cream from fridge and allow to stand at room temperature, in its carton, until cream temps at right around 60° F; the optimal range for butter making is 55° F to 65° F.

Pour cream into blender vessel.

Turn to highest setting that won't splatter the cream and keep a close eye on things.

Within a couple minutes, the cream will begin to thicken visibly – Increase blender speed a notch or two.

 

You will see butter begin to form, as you do in the image below; turn the blender speed down several notches. As butter formation increases, you may need to use a spatula to scrape down the butter as it forms. This process will take about 3 to 5 minutes, maybe a bit longer.

 

When butter is well formed and buttermilk is clearly separating, turn blender off and transfer butter to a mixing bowl.

 

Add 50° F water and knead butter by hand, thoroughly washing the butter.

 

Pour off the water and buttermilk, and continue kneading by hand, removing very bit of moisture you can find – Both water and buttermilk will cause your butter to spoil relatively quickly, so be diligent in this process.

 

If you wish to salt, or add other ingredients to make compound butters, now is the time. Note: Finishing salts with distinct flavor profiles make fabulous salted butters.

When done, transfer butter to clean glass or ceramic containers and refrigerate.

Butter should last about a week, providing you were diligent about removing the buttermilk.

 

Ready to try your hand at cultured butter? Cultures that work on butter are referred to as mesophilic, meaning they will activate in relatively cool temperatures, (As opposed to the thermophillic, or high temperature cultures we use in cheesemaking). Again, raw cream cultures naturally, but most of what we have access to has been pasteurized, and as such, it will require additional cultures to come alive. Outfits like New England Cheesemaking Supply and Leeners sell a wide variety of cultures that will work for butter, but it is easier and cheaper to use good quality, local cultured yoghurt, buttermilk, or kefir; just make sure that what you buy specifically reads that it contains live cultures. Allowing pasteurized cream to just grab whatever comes along is not a good idea: Pasteurization kills all cultures, including the good ones, so without it, cream is stripped of its natural defenses – This is why a known, quality controlled culture is your best bet. Here's how to do it.

Use one of the following options to culture your cream;

For pasteurized cream, add 1 Tablespoon of live culture yogurt, buttermilk, or kefir to each cup of heavy cream, and whisk gently to incorporate. Allow to culture for 12 to 24 hours.

For raw cream, culture for 12 to 48 hours.

Use a clean glass bowl or jar with a clean cloth or paper towel rubber banded to cover. If you use canning jars, boil them to sterilize, then allow to cool to room temp prior to filling.

Culturing needs to be done between 70° F and 75° F for the stated intervals. If it's not that warm in your house, you'll need to gently heat the cream in a sauce pan over low heat, to about 75° F before transferring it to a bowl or jar and adding culture. Find a warm, quiet spot for the process to work, (On top of the stove works nicely.)

When the cream has successfully cultured, it will be notably thicker.

Stir cultured cream gently but thoroughly, then put it in the fridge to cool down to around 50° F; this will stop the culturing process and prepare the cream for buttermaking. Once it's cooled, churn it as per instructions above.

 

Note that you will typically not get enough buttermilk from a pint of cream to be worthwhile, but if you love the tangy richness of that wonderful stuff as much as we do, you can also use your favorite milk to create homemade.

1 Cup of cultured Buttermilk

3 Cups Whole Milk

Pour buttermilk and milk into a sterilized quart canning jar and seal tightly.

Shake vigorously to incorporate, then leave jar to sit at room temp for 12 to 24 hours. When properly cultured, the fresh buttermilk will nicely coat the sides of the jar when shaken.

Refrigerated, it'll last a good week or so.

 

And finally, compound butters, or beurres composés, are simple mixtures of butter and whatever else floats your boat. They're ridiculously easy to prepare, making them a nice, quick way to add a custom touch to many, many dishes. They're perfect as a general flavor profile enhancer, or used as a sauce/condiment all by themselves.

 

Freshly made butter is in perfect condition to make compound butters. We boil half pint jam jars with our pint butter jar, and use the smaller for compound butters. You can also go the more traditional route, and wrap them in waxed paper – Either way, pop them in the fridge until they're nice and firm.

Proportions and constituents are up to you. Plan on doing some tasting to get things where you like them, (darn…) I use a fork to whisk everything to a nice, uniform consistency, then scoop them into jars or waxed paper. You can use them to top hot meats or veggies, or as a base or finishing elements for a sauce.

Here are a few classics, as well as some our favorites; the rest I leave up to you – It's a very personal decision, and too much fun to just use somebody else's ideas. All are prepared as described above.

 

Classic French Compound Butters

Beurre d'Ail – Garlic Butter

For every 1/2 cup of butter, add

2-4 cloves of pressed or smashed garlic and blend thoroughly.

 

Beurre a la MaĂźtre d'HĂŽtel – Hotel Butter

To each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 good pinch of sea salt

A couple twists of white pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon

2 tablespoons of finely minced, fresh parsley.

 

Beurre de Citron – Lemon Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add the

Zest of 1 small, fresh lemon and blend well.

Note that any other citrus zest you like will also be delightful.

Beurre de Frais Herbes – Fresh Herb Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, start with a couple teaspoons of whatever fresh herb(s) you have on hand – Rosemary, parsley, chives, lemon thyme, marjoram, basil, tarragon, or oregano are all wonderful.

 

And here are a few of our faves.

Montmorency Cherry & Vanilla Bean Compound Butter

Cherry Vanilla Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

2 tablespoons minced Montmorency Cherries

Seeds from 1 freshly scraped Vanilla Bean.

 

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

Deep Citrus Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

Zest and juice of 1 small Lemon

Zest and juice of 1 small Lime

1 teaspoon powdered Kaffir Lime leaves

About 3″ of fresh Lemongrass, minced.

Add juice, zest, and lemongrass to a small bowl, mix well and allow to steep for 10 minutes.

Add butter and all other ingredients and mix well.

Squeeze butter by hand to remove all excess juice

 

Smoky Compound Butter

Smoky Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Salt

1/2 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1/4 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/4 teaspoon granulated Onion

1/4 teaspoon fine ground Black Pepper

 

Best Veggie Compound Butter

Best Veggie Compound Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Savory

Zest of 1 small Lemon

Pinch Sea Salt

 

Filé Compound Butter

Jenn's Filé Butter

For each 1/2 cup of butter, add

1 Tablespoon filé powder

1 pinch Sea Salt

Add to sauces, stocks, or soups as a thickener, or at table side for use in individual bowls.

 

Enjoy.