The Guide to Fermentation Part 2: Butter - BodyMind Institute

The Guide to Fermentation Part 2: Butter

By Dr. Terry Willard | Nutrition

Apr 01

Average Reading Time: 6 minutes and 12 seconds

Even though there are several benefits to fermentation, probably the most important one in our modern world, is for our own immunity. Bacteria outnumber our own human cells by at least 10 to 1 (even though some research is currently debating this).If there are 30 – 75 trillion human cells, this means we have 300 – 750 trillion organisms that we have as part of our personal ecosystem. We simply could not survive without this ecosystem.

These microscopic allies are important components of our immune system. Our body has sophisticated mechanisms, enzymes, and cells to protect us from invading viruses and infections. But we have to consider our gut flora as a private security force to assist our body’s natural defenses

No matter how vigilant we are about taking care of ourselves in other areas, we need help from our private security force.

Why fermented butter?

We need our bacteria to be healthy, fresh, strong, and numerous, and they in turn need our bodies to run properly to ensure their own survival. Regularly consuming fermented foods keeps our digestive tracts constantly supplied with reinforcements, and creates the kind of environment in which they can work efficiently and thrive.

These little bacterial friends are living inside us, working as a freelance security force, all in exchange for free room and board. Without sufficient beneficial bacteria in the gut, harmful bacteria will bloom and start to wreak havoc on the digestive tract and immune system, causing inflammation, and eventually start to negatively affect other parts of the body. This bloom is called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

It may seem counterintuitive, but SIBO can also be caused by overgrowth of the good guys! You might think that if a little is good, more would be better, right? Well, just as with, say, sweet treats, in the case of bacteria—even our friendly private security force! — more of a good thing is definitely not a good thing. This is why a proper balance of good bacteria must be maintained. And this is where fermented foods come in. Fermented foods assist the body in maintaining the Goldilocks’ of not-­too-­much-­but-­not-­too-­few good bacteria in the intestines. Think of fermented foods as an intestinal insurance policy—a prophylactic probiotic punch to give your gut every advantage.

"This means that even though fermented foods are quite good for you, you need to start off slowly. If you have not eaten that many fermented foods before, you might feel a little upset if you start eating too much, too fast. Remember you are introducing a new set of microorganisms into your ecosystem and they might have to battle for a niche in the complex environment of your digestive tract. This might cause die-off, or detoxing symptoms that will take some time to adjust to.

A good place to start is with fermented dill pickles as seen in one of my earlier blogs, or maybe cultured (fermented) butter or buttermilk." From the online course – Fermenting for Life.

Butter and Buttermilk

When you make butter from pasteurized cream, you get what is called sweet cream butter. When you make it from fermented cream (like crème fraîche), using the same process, you get cultured butter.

In the old days, most butter was cultured butter, simply because cream was raw, refrigeration was difficult, and most cream had started to ferment on its own by the time folks had gathered enough of it to start making butter. Nowadays, we make cultured butter because it has a nicer flavor, it has healthy bacteria, and it keeps better. In fact, a lot of store-­‐bought sweet cream butter has flavorings added to it to make it taste more like cultured butter. (Read the label and you’ll see.)

If this is the case, then why doesn’t everyone simply make cultured butter? Because cultured butter takes longer to make. If you are a small producer making it at home, the extra time isn’t a big deal because you’re going through the work of making the butter anyway. But if you are a large industrial producer, then time is money; using additives is cheaper, quicker, and more predictable than fermenting your cream.

Making butter is simple: you put cream in a jar, and shake the jar until the cream turns into butter. It’s even easier if you have children: hand the jar over to them! You can also use a blender, mixer, or food processor if you have one. When you are done, you will have butter, and you will have some residual liquid.

This residual liquid is true buttermilk. The buttermilk you get from making cultured butter is more interesting than the buttermilk you get from making sweet cream butter: it has more flavor, is more acidic, and contains live cultures. Either way, genuine buttermilk is fat free, or pretty close to it, because the fat is in the butter. The buttermilk you buy at the store is usually skim milk that has been fermented with a starter.

Making Your Own Butter

It is much easier to make your own butter than you might think. But First, Why Bother?

You may be wondering why you should bother with making your own product. First, it’s really easy and a lot of fun, which is why kids like to do it. But you also end up with a superior product, especially if you choose quality cream and take the time to culture it (more on that below). Making it at home is a great way to use up any cream you have leftover from a recipe — don’t you just hate it when a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cream and there you are, left with practically a whole bottle?

The other major reason to make your own butter is that it produces another great food -­-­ buttermilk! This is the true buttermilk, not the thickened stuff we’re used to buying in the stores today. It has a clean, fresh, tangy taste (especially if you cultured your cream) and it can be used in most recipes that call for buttermilk.

The Cream

Be sure you use quality cream for your butter. Since it’s practically your only ingredient, you will taste the difference. The best is a local, organic, homogenized “whipping cream.” If possible, avoid ultra-­pasteurized cream as the super-­high heat used to in this type of pasteurization destroys much of the cream’s flavor.

Tip: Many people swear that raw cream is the best choice for making butter.

Culturing the Cream

Culturing the cream before you churn it is really the way to go, if you have the time. You don’t have to do this to make good butter, but you do have to do it to make great butter! Transcendent butter! Back before refrigeration, all butter was cultured as a way to keep it from spoiling. It’s super easy to do, but you do need to allow for some extra time for the culturing (usually 12 to 24 hours), so you can skip this step if time is not on your side.

You can use butter cultures, or simply use yogurt since it is so readily available. As with the cream, try to avoid an overly processed yogurt.

Culturing Temperatures

The cream will need to sit at a slightly warm temperature to culture, about 70°F to 75°F. Once it’s cultured, it should be chilled to about 60°F to churn properly. You can pop the bowl into the refrigerator for about 1 hour to chill it and avoid the exact temperature measuring. If you don’t think you will churn it right away, I leave it in the fridge for longer and then let it rest at room temperature for about an hour to take some of the chill off.

What About Salt?

If you use the home-­‐churned butter for spreading and cooking, a little salt is a nice addition. It improves the flavor and contributes to its shelf life as salt is a natural preservative. But it is optional, and if you’re not sure how you will be using your butter, you may want to leave it out. If you do add salt, be sure to add it at the very end so you don’t rinse it away in the final washing process.

What’s with the Washing?

Even after the butter has been drained and pressed, it’s still holding onto a lot of buttermilk. You want to rinse out as much of this as possible as the buttermilk will contribute to early spoilage. Some people like to squeeze the butter in their hands under cold running water, but I prefer the ice water in a bowl method (see recipe below).


You will need (Makes about 1 cup of butter and 8 ounces of buttermilk):

  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream, preferably organic and not ultra-pasteurized.
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (optional) 
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon of salt (optional) 
  • 2 or 3 cups of ice water, for washing the butter
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon of salt (optional)
  • Equipment

  • Cheesecloth or clean cloth napkin
  • Bowl for catching buttermilk
  • Stand mixer, hand mixer, food processor, or canning jar (or other covered container) 
  • Plastic wrap or kitchen cloth 
  • Wooden spoon or Spatula
  • Clean containers for butter and buttermilk 
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper (optional)
  • Sturdy sieve
  • Preparation

    • Culture the cream (optional): The day before you would like to make your butter, pour the cream into a bowl and add the yogurt. Whisk briefly to combine and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Set in a slightly warm place (about 20°–24°C; 70°–75°F) to Check after 8 to 12 hours. The cream is ready when it has thickened slightly and is a little foamy. It will smell slightly sour and tangy. This can possibly take an additional 12 to 24 hours. Once it has cultured, place it in the refrigerator for about 1 hour to chill. If you did not culture your cream, let it warm on the counter for about an hour (to about 60°F) before churning.
    • Prepare the sieve and mixer: Place a sturdy sieve over a bowl and line with a few layers of cheesecloth or a clean cloth napkin. You can use a stand mixer, a hand mixer, a food processor, or a canning jar to churn your cream.
    • Prepare the cream and mixer for churning: Place the cream in the bowl of your mixer or processor. Cover the top with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel to prevent
    • Churn the cream: Turn on the mixer to medium-­high. The cream will first whip into peaks (at around 2 minutes) and then become grainy (around 3 minutes). Keep whipping until the solid mass (butter) and liquid (buttermilk) are separated (about 5 minutes total). The mixture will splatter heavily in the final stages of churning, so be sure the plastic wrap is secure. The process may take a little longer, up to 8 to 10 minutes, although it usually takes me less than 5 minutes.
    • Strain off the buttermilk: Pour the buttermilk through the cheesecloth and strainer, holding the butter solid back. Allow the buttermilk to strain through, then plop in the butter. Gather the cloth around the butter and press it hard with your fist. Do this several times to get as much buttermilk out of the butter as possible. Pour the buttermilk into a container, label and
    • Wash the butter: Rinse out the bowl used for buttermilk. Remove the butter from the cloth and place it in the bowl. Add 1/2 cup of ice water to the bowl, and using a spatula, press the butter into the ice water. It will quickly become cloudy with buttermilk. Pour off the cloudy water, add another 1/2 cup of ice water to the bowl, and keep pressing. Repeat until the water is clear. This may take up to 6 washings. The butter will firm up towards the end, so you may find it easier to use your
    • Salt the butter (optional): Sprinkle the salt over the butter and knead in. Again, your hands may be the best tool
    • Store the butter. Pack the butter into a jar with a cover, or roll it into a log using waxed paper or parchment paper. The butter will keep in the refrigerator for about three weeks or can be frozen for several months.

    Before you start

    Notes on culturing: Many factors will influence how long the cream takes to culture: ambient room temperature, how your cream was processed and pasteurized, how your yogurt was processed and pasteurized, etc. If the cream cultures too quickly and you’re not ready to make the butter yet, simply put it into the refrigerator until you are ready. Just be sure you remove it about an hour before churning so that it can warm up a bit.

    Cultured cream will be thickened and slightly foamy, and it will have a somewhat tangy, almost yogurt-­‐like smell. Trust your senses! If you feel it is too strong and has gone bad, just throw it away. But remember that the yogurt is introducing beneficial cultures that help prevent spoilage, so the likelihood of this happening is small.

    Unplugged butter: You can skip the electric mixer/processor and simply shake your cream in a covered canning jar or well-­sealed container until it forms into the butter mass. This can take a while, up to 20 minutes or more, so be prepared for a work-­out or solicit some help.

    Article By Dr. Terry Willard, Faculty Member here at the BodyMind Institute
    Blog Website:
    Wild Rose College of Natural Healing Website:

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    About the Author

    For over forty years, Terry Willard, Cl.H., Ph.D., has studied the medicinal properties of plants. He is recognized as one of North America’s leading Clinical Herbalists. He appears regularly in the print and electronic media as an exponent of responsible herbal use. He is the past-president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and in the Canadian Health Food Association’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Willard is the author of twelve books on the subject of Herbs including the pivotal Wild Rose Herbal Series – a series of three textbooks written to educate herbalists. Two of his books, Mind-Body Harmony and Dr. Willard Flower Essence: Emotional Alchemy and Spiritual Evolution, have been particularly popular with the general public.


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