Making Goat Butter (Using a Cream Separator)

As some of you know, I recently bought a 1-gallon Gem Dandy butter churn off eBay with a view of making butter from the excess goat milk we generate every day. It seemed like a good idea at the time. For one thing, I really dislike having to waste food, simply because I have neither milk customers nor animals to feed it to. I am also annoyed at being forced to pay more and more for butter every time I hit the supermarket. We use lots of butter, as we never (thank goodness) made the switch to margarine and Crisco—ugh! I knew the dangers of trans fats many years ago, and the only trans fats I’ve ever eaten were in food served by my family when I was a kid, or in restaurant fare.

In addition to eating butter as a condiment on bread or cooked vegetables, I use it for cooking and baking, too (along with extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil). I go through a couple pounds of butter every week (even more, if I’m doing Holiday baking). For example, the Betty Crocker recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies requires ½ lb. of butter (using no margarine), Peanut Butter Cookies need ¼ lb., and one two-crust pie uses ½ lb. of butter. Do a little baking, and you’ve used up your weekly ration before you know it. So, making my own butter can easily save me $12-20/week, considering that most brands at the local Safeway sell for $3.99-5.99/lb—depending on whether it’s on sale or not.

Making butter from goat’s milk is a bit more complex than using cow’s milk. The cream in goat’s milk will eventually rise to the surface, just as with cow’s milk, but not as readily, nor in the quantity it does with cow’s milk. Because fat globules in goat’s milk are smaller and more fragile than those in cow’s milk, it’s easier and more efficient to use a cream separator to skim it off. Fortunately, I knew that and had already bought a separator from the Ukraine through Amazon. I even already knew how to use it.

My Kubik Rubik cream separator

My separator is a 50-liter hand crank model sold by Kubik Rubik through Amazon, and I paid $138 for a new one in 2014. It now sells for $155. The parts which contact the milk are made of food-grade plastic or stainless-steel, and I really have no complaints, though the instructions are hard to wade through. If I hadn’t had a similar DeLaval separator years ago, I don’t know that I could’ve figured them out! Most of the cream separators you find advertised on regular goat equipment Websites are electric models—but they handle far more capacity than I needed and cost much more than I wanted to spend. That’s why I went the cheapo route and bought the hand crank version. How I wish I could’ve found a DeLaval like I had 40 years ago, but alas, they have all been recycled into planters or non-functioning museum exhibits.

Thankfully, once you DO decipher the instructions, the separator is easy to operate. Just be sure you’re turning the crank up to speed before you open the plug in the milk bowl, or you’ll have water or milk running all over the place. I usually run the morning milk through (about 4-gallons’ worth), and it takes about an hour, between setting up, running hot water through to warm up the machine, running the milk through (requires filling the bowl several times for 4-gallons of milk), and then running more hot water through to help clean the machine. Then you must take the separator apart, rinse, and wash everything in hot soapy water to remove the cream left on the machine parts. It looks sort of like white rubber at this point. I usually get 1 ½-2 quarts of cream from 4-gallons of goat’s milk from my Nubians. The skim milk can be used as you would non-fat milk.

Finished butter in the butter churn

The next step in making your butter is chilling the cream. It will need to sit in the refrigerator at least overnight, maybe even longer, to be cold enough to run through your butter churn. You must be sure the cream is cold enough, or it won’t get past the “buttery whipped cream” stage. Aside from that, your churn is going to whip the cream into butter for you, and it will only take about 20-30 minutes. Do you really need a churn? I would say yes, unless you only plan on doing it once or twice just for fun. Although it is possible to make butter with your blender or Kitchenaid mixer, you will find it’s a sloppy, messy business. Even with the splatter shield, you’ll need to tent the mixer with at least one bath towel, and it will be wringing wet before the butter is done. The nice thing about using a churn is that the cream is in an enclosed jar and none of it is splattering all over you, the counter, and the floor. I tried making butter with my Kitchenaid once, and that was enough for me. Another point of note: if it’s a really hot day (as it frequently is where we live), you can place your butter churn in a large bowl filled with ice water to help the process along.

Butter (left) and buttermilk (right)

Once the butter forms in your churn, it will be obvious—you will see a big clump of butter floating in buttermilk inside the churn—and it will look like butter, not buttery whipped cream. If it still looks too creamy, churn it bit longer or set the churn in an ice water bath (as described above) and churn longer. Once the cream has become butter, unplug the churn and drain off the buttermilk. Once the buttermilk is drained off (and you needn’t discard it—it can be used for cooking), you will need to rinse the butter several more times, using very cold water, until the water you pour off is clear. Remove the butter from the churn, put it into a separate bowl, and press the remaining water out of it using a large spoon or spatula. Continue until you have removed as much water as possible, because you do not want your butter to go rancid from any buttermilk that might be left behind.

Rinsed and salted butter

Butter spread into the loaf pan

Congratulations—you now have butter! Be aware that goat’s milk will give you white butter—there is no carotene in goat’s milk; it’s all been converted to pure Vitamin A. You must add yellow food coloring or Annatto (a vegetable dye commonly used in food) to have yellow goat butter. Cow’s milk will naturally give you yellow butter. If you want to use it for cooking, you don’t even need to salt it, though probably you will want to add salt for table use. My 1-gallon butter churn gives me between 2.9-3 lb of butter to a batch. I add ½ tsp. of salt to this, and it seems perfect, but you can salt to your own taste. I mix the salt into the butter in my bowl, using my hands—as the Barefoot Contessa says, “clean hands are your best tools.”

Next, you will need to spread and press your butter into a mold. You do not need to buy a fancy silicone or antique wooden mold for your butter. Line a loaf pan with a sheet of waxed paper, and then spread the butter in it using a spatula or a large spoon. When you’re done, you can place the pan with the butter in the fridge so it can set up. Once it hardens, you can easily cut it into rectangles, weigh it out, and package it for use on the table or in cooking. Keep it wrapped in waxed paper in the refrigerator, or even freeze it, if you don’t intend to use it up soon.

Am I glad I decided to make my own butter? Yes, though I didn’t realize how much work it would be. I’ve made all our bread for years, so I appreciate the difference between homemade and store-bought food—homemade is always better! I’m certain I’m not saving any money, considering all the time and effort, but I’m also not having to just pitch that milk anymore, either. Another big plus is the satisfaction derived from eating a slice of homemade bread, spread with homemade goat butter, and homemade apple butter or preserves. If you’ve never done it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Making Cheese

Some Parmesan and Farmhouse Cheddar cheeses I made in 2015

Some Feta, Parmesan, and Farmhouse Cheddar cheeses I made in 2015

I’m about to wind up my second year of making cheese from the milk my goats produce,and I have to admit I feel pretty good about it. I look at the wall of cheeses I’ve made this year, and it’s very satisfying. Things went much more smoothly too, since I had the right equipment AND a place to age my cheeses (AKA a “cheese cave”) that worked. Last year was tough, because 1) I was a newbie, so EVERYTHING was on the learning curve; 2) I was trying to “make-do” while gradually buying all the stuff I needed (kind of hard to just jump in when on a fixed income); and 3) I did not have a good place to store or age my cheeses. I would make a new cheese recipe and try to age it, but the only place I had for storage was too warm. The cheeses would weep oil, then the wax would flake off, and then the bugs would move in. NOT GOOD! Finally I gave up and just put them all in the freezer after cleaning them up. It was almost enough to make me quit, but I’m a pretty stubborn customer (and by this time I’d spent a fair amount of money on books and equipment), so I kept at it.

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My “cheese cave:” It’s an old bookshelf with the shelves doubled and lined with unfinished pine boards.

I tried all sorts of cheese recipes to see which ones worked best for me. The fresh cheeses, such as Chevré, Ricotta, and Mozzarella are really easy, and I make them a day or so before I want to use them. They store in the refrigerator, so no problems there. Hard cheeses were a challenge though, and while I can make yogurt from goat’s milk, I finally decided it wasn’t worth the trouble when I can so easily buy great yogurt at the store. Yogurt has to be cooked in order to change the milk proteins so it will set up, and by then it is basically pasteurized—it also scorches on the bottom of your pot, no matter how careful you are, so unless you are absolutely set on making it yourself, be forewarned.

The best hard cheeses I made were Monterrey Jack (I tried pepper jack, but I always ended up with bits of jalapeño that stuck in my cheesecloth), Parmesan, and Farmhouse Cheddar. They are relatively easy to make, but they must be aged for at least two months (in the case of Parmesan, 10 months aging is recommended), so an adequate cheese cave is mandatory. I finally got Sam to put together some shelves in my combination feed and tack room, because that’s the only place I have that is insulated and maintains a constant temperature. An air filter takes care of any dust. The main thing is the temperature, which I keep at 55-60⁰ F. Considering the outside temperature regularly tops 100⁰ F. here in the summertime, and -20⁰ F. is not unheard of in the winter, I settled for that.

Monterrey Jack I made last year with our goat's milk

Monterrey Jack I made last year with our goat’s milk

I also began dipping my cheeses in cheese wax, rather than brushing it on. It’s a better way, because the wax is hotter (225⁰F.) and kills any mold spores (at least theoretically) that is on the surface of the cheese. It can be kind of tricky dipping the cheeses (they are slippery!), so BE VERY CAREFUL. You MUST also keep an eye on the hot wax. It can very easily catch on fire, so it cannot be left unattended EVER. I keep my cheese wax in an aluminum pot with a bail handle that sits inside a stock pot containing water on the stove. Low heat is about right to keep the wax at the right temperature for dipping, and you can check it with an instant-read thermometer. Two coats of wax is generally sufficient and takes care of any holes left from the first dip. You may need to trim cheeses that develop spots of mold and re-dip them from time to time, but most of them shouldn’t need it.

This coming year I will continue learning, though hopefully I won’t be inundated with milk again! All the kids are bottle-fed, so they will consume the vast majority of milk until they are weaned (we wean at five months, since we have oodles and gobs of milk on hand). Then I plan to sell off a few milking does and once again reduce the herd to what we will keep through next winter. I aim to try a few new cheese recipes next year, make a bunch of ones I’m comfortable with, and who knows, maybe even sell a few cheeses along the way. If you can, don’t hesitate to try it yourself, because cheesemaking is fun. Make your own Mozzarella to top a homemade pizza. You will become a convert!