Until fairly recently, I reserved the same fear for raw milk as I did for rare hamburgers and pork chops--things that were as likely as not to kill me through the introduction of nasty parasites and bacteria into my digestive system. But shortly after we started this blog, I realized that if I wanted to purchase local dairy products from small producers, my only option was to buy raw milk. Though my first outing was filled with much trepidation, I survived not only to tell the tale, but also to become a raw milk convert. I began buying raw milk and cream from two local dairies--Grace Harbor and Sea Breeze Farm. I'd never had a problem, conceptually or otherwise, with raw milk cheeses, and continued to purchase these with abandon whenever I found them. The only raw milk dairy product I could not find, in fact, was fresh butter, though Sea Breeze does occasionally produce some ghee.
As it turns out, the Washington State Department of Agriculture limits the products raw milk dairies can sell to cream and milk. Raw milk cheeses must be aged a minimum of 60 days per the US Department of Agriculture, based on the idea that pathogens are unable to survive in a low-moisture, low-acidity environment. My quest for butter made from raw milk was beginning to take on the aura of the quest for the Holy Grail; I was thinking of trying my hand at making my own butter when Man of La Muncha returned home one evening with a surprise; raw milk butter, which he'd received from a friend.
I immediately opened the plastic storage bag and unwrapped the saran from a stick of butter. Grabbing a knife, I dislodged a small piece from the end of the stick and popped it onto my tongue.
Now, clearly my fondness for butter is no secret; my nom du beurre, as Dairy Queen calls it, does not hide my feelings for this fabulous fat. Good butter is rich and creamy, with a hint of salt. Butter is everything in all seasons--spread on corn in the middle of summer, dropped in fat slabs onto split squash in autumn, baked in cookies or mashed in potatoes in the winter, and plopped on a pile of pea pods in the spring. It makes everything a little more savory; there are few things more satisfying to my palate than coming across a lump of not-quite-melted butter during the course of the meal--the fat spreads across my tongue, dancing with the flavors of the accompanying food. But for all that, when I tried the raw milk butter Man of La Muncha came home with, I realized that this was the first time I'd truly had butter.
The raw milk butter was savory, with a slightly green tang to it. It crumbled like a cheese, and, like a good cheddar, there was a fullness and roundness to the flavor profile that provided a feeling of satiety from a very small amount. Commercial butter paled in comparison; it was as though I'd been eating oleo all these years, only to wake up one day to the magic that is butter.
We've since cooked with the raw milk butter, in addition to eating it spread on toast and bread. The smell of the melted butter is unique--slightly gamey, with a bit of sharpness. I can always tell when Man of La Muncha has used some of our precious raw milk butter when cooking, just by walking in the back door. We suspect that it won't keep as long as commercial butter, so we keep it frozen until we're ready to use an entire stick in the course of a week or so.
We're now down to the last stick and a half. There is no more. There is only one solution--I need to start making my own butter. Does anyone know if overbeating whipped cream really does give you butter?