Sunday, June 1, 2008

Butternomics: The Economics of Making Your Own Butter

A while back on one of the heath forums I frequent, someone asked what they could do with excess whipping cream. They had bought too much and did not want it to go to waste. It only took seconds for that poster to flush out all the Midwesterners, who cheerfully posted, MAKE BUTTER!

Apparently, in 1st or 2nd grade, every kid living within smelling distance of a dairy farm does "the butter project". Each kid gets a small baby food jar with a splash of cream in it and the teacher has the kids shake the jars (most likely in a futile attempt to burn off excess 6 year old energy) until each jar is filled with butter and a little bit of buttermilk. Then the butter was spread on crackers, which, of course, are loaded with carbs, and would counteract any tiredness incurred from the butter making activity (stupid teachers). I guess the forum poster was an under-privileged city kid who had to learn important survival skills like how to flag down a taxi in the rain or how to secure a rent-controlled apartment and missed out on the Dairy Studies portion of her education.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how easy it was to make butter, and I wondered if it made sense for me to start making my own. I have done it on occasion when I ran out in the middle of a recipes and really did not feel like trudging to Walmart in my jammie bottoms, tie dyed t-shirt and flip flops (standard chef's uniform at the 'Zilla household). Sure I saved myself the embarrassment of running in to an important client or friendly city official who might not be impressed with my "Family Guy" Brian Print wear, but did it economically make SENSE for me to do it.

I decided to find out.

1 half gallon of regular (not heavy) whipping cream weighs about 2 1/2 lbs. I weighed out 1 lb of the whipping cream and put it in my food processor. After about 3 minutes, I managed to turn that cream in to butter and buttermilk. I took out the butter and then weighed that on the scale. My 1 lb of cream was now 10oz of fluffy butter once the liquid was poured off. So if I were to whip up the entire half gallon, I would have 25oz of butter from my $5.86 container of cream. Since most butter is sold by the pound, doing a little math, my butter weighed 1.5625 lbs. making it $3.75/lb. Not exactly a bargain with retail butter prices being somewhere around $3.25/lb (even cheaper on sale, or at Costco). Making my own butter actually cost me more than getting it at the store.

At first glance that might make you decide not to try and make your own, but if you consider time and gas going to the store JUST for butter, I call it a wash. If you actually use the buttermilk it can even become good bargain, plus you should definitely make your own butter rather than let cream go to waste. The final decision on weather or not to make your own butter on a regular basis is going to be an individual thing. If you live far away from a store, no access to a Sam's Club or Costco, or have access to cheap fresh cream, making it yourself is a great idea. It can also be a good idea if you want more control over what goes in your butter and want it to be as fresh as possible. After all, who knows HOW long that stuff at the Super Center sat on the shelf? Just carefully weigh all the factors (including weather or not you have access to a hyperactive grade schooler and some baby food jars, which takes access to electricity out of the equation) and go from there.

1 comment:

Vikki said...

I taught pre-k and kindergarten for 20+ years. Never a year went by that with the coming of spring I didn't use a farm theme and we all made butter.
However, I went one step farther with my little munchkins, I added a santitized glass marble to each jar so it was easier for my bitties to get it all shook up. So much fun!
We also made ice cream in coffee cans and roasted, shelled and ground our own peanut butter.
BTW I'm in Texas not so many dairy farms but lots of Cattle Ranches...giggle