Few chefs give butter the attention and respect it deserves, but Chef Travis Grimes of Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, is here to give it. He knows the merits of a good butter when he sees it. And rather than waiting around for someone to import it or make it for him, he takes the easy road—sort of—crafting his own with a few minutes of hard work and a few hours of patience.
Grimes is a purist who looks toward farm-fresh milk and a traditional process to churn vibrant yellow, grassy, and deeply flavored butter. The cost of starting with such an excellent foundation may mean his butter costs more than buying from the local distributor, but the flavorful benefits and act of self-expression make the investment worthwhile. The process also has 100 percent useable yield and can be applied in many different parts of the kitchen
Starting with raw, non-homogenized milk, Grimes rests the liquid overnight, causing the milk settle and cream to rise. After settling, “It’s best to let [the mixture] ripen—to let your cream sit out at room temperature for a few hours. Eight to 10 [hours] would be great,” says Grimes. This short ripening period is actually the beginning stages of fermentation that encourages milk sugars to convert to lactic acid. This helps with creating those tangy notes highly processed, quickly produced butters simply can’t offer. It also warms the lipids and proteins and drastically cuts churning time.
Next, he gently skims the cream into a large plastic container and churns with an electric butter churner. The fat globules separate at different speeds depending on the temperature of the cream: the colder, the longer it takes. What’s leftover is butterfat that looks more like cottage cheese than butter, along with fresh, tangy, acidic buttermilk that can easily be incorporated into salad dressings, ice creams, baked goods, marinades béchamel sauces, and more. The butterfat then gets a “rinse” in ice water to remove bacteria, prevent spoilage, and stiffen up the butterfat, which makes it easier to press out any remaining buttermilk. Grimes does this step using an old, beat-up butter board that, alone, exemplifies everything great about the chef and his devotion to historic Southern cooking. If you find yourself without a butter board, just knead the butter by hand in small batches.
The traditional method Grimes uses at Husk is an ideal starting point for beginner butter churners. Once you master the foundation, a world of possibilities is before you. Evan and Sarah Rich of San Francisco's Rich Table take the process to the extreme with a 36-hour cultured butter that includes cow’s milk, goat's milk yogurt (for a little extra tang and starter), raclette cheese rind and a multi-step process that’s more about feel, flavor, and fermentation. The process is open to any kind of fresh milk or cream and endless culture variations. Any way you churn it, this labor of love goes a long way. Let butter be that one note, that one beautifully fatty and elegant element that amplifies all the rest.
- Let milk sit overnight, refrigerated. (Cream will separate to the surface)
- Skim cream into a churning vessel and churn for 45 to 60 minutes, or until fat separates from buttermilk.
- Strain mixture in a chinois lined with cheesecloth.
- “Rinse” butterfat in ice water to solidify.
- Strain again and knead butter to remove any remaining moisture.
- Wrap tightly and refrigerate, or freeze for longer storage.