Last year my sister-in-law texted me a picture of a huge baking sheet filled with homemade butter. She was about to put it in the freezer to firm up so she could cut it into sticks.
I was so jealous.
How could I call myself a real foodie when I didn’t make my own butter?! Butter is the BEST. And all it takes is raw cream, right? You don’t even need special equipment (although it REALLY helps with the process). I felt like I was a huge slacker, so I began the hunt for raw milk.
About six months after the search began, I had found two solutions. Both, however, were VERY expensive. The cheaper of the two farmers charged $14 per gallon of raw milk, which was more than twice as much as I pay for organic milk.
Despite the fact this purchase would likely tip my grocery budget over the edge, I bought a half gallon, brought it home and made butter.
A whole whopping 1/4 cup.
This teeny tiny amount of butter (and teeny tiny amount of buttermilk) made me seriously question whether or not making butter is worth it. I bring this question before you guys – my friendly frugal foodies – to discuss and debate.
Is making butter worth it?
The two main variables in making homemade butter are the same in any homemade food: time and money. Let’s address each one with practicality in mind, since we all know if it’s not practical, it’s not gonna happen!
Is making butter worth the time?
In order to get raw milk, I have to go to the farmer’s market on Fridays between 10am and 2pm. The farmer only accepts cash, which means I have to stop at the bank beforehand (since I rarely carry cash). It takes 8 minutes to get to the bank, then another 10 to get to the farmers market. Five minutes to unload the kids, give them the “keep your hands to yourself and don’t take strawberries” pep talk and walk to the farmer’s stand. Two minutes to buy milk. Five minutes to walk back to the car and buckle up the kids. Fifteen minutes to drive home and another 3 minutes to unload the kids and milk from the car and put the milk in the fridge.
According to the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, the milk should sit at room temperature for about 8 hours to sour. Since I’m not usually making butter at 7pm at night, the milk goes in the fridge until the evening. Before I go to bed, I pour out the raw milk into clean quart jars so it’s easier to access the cream. I let them sit on the counter overnight.
In the morning, I spend 10 minutes scooping off the cream into my Blendtec (I have one similar to this one) and put the milk back into the half gallon jar (because my fridge isn’t big enough for any more quart jars). The quickest part of the whole process is actually making the butter, which only took two cycles on the Blendtec, or 1 minute and 45 seconds.
Total Time to Make Butter = 50 minutes of “doing,” 17 hours of waiting
In order to buy grass-fed butter, I do a few of the same steps above. I drive to Costco (which is right next to the bank, so 8 minutes), meander my way through the crowds of people to the back of the store to get the butter, then meander again to the front of the store to check out. The shortest time I’ve EVER stayed at Costco for a single item was 12 minutes, but since the kids will likely be with me, let’s add another 5 to the front for unloading/pep talk/walking to the front door (since there’s never parking at the front anyway) and another 5 minutes to the end for walking back to the car and loading it up with butter and the kids. Another 8 minutes home and 3 to unload everything and everyone.
Total Time to Buy Butter = 41 minutes of “doing”
There are a lot of different variables at work here and your situation might be very different from mine.
If you have your own animals, aren’t constrained to a day of the week or time of day, live closer to a store, can buy raw cream (instead of scooping it from the milk) or are able to stay up late to make butter, you won’t have to “do” as much or wait as long.
However, if you have to drive a significant distance to get raw milk, then possibly distribute to others in your area (if you’re doing a cow share) and aren’t able to make butter the next day, you’ll spend a good bit more time “doing,” waiting AND driving.
Waiting doesn’t bother me… unless I ran out of butter in the midst of cooking or baking. The doing though, that’s a bit tougher. Going to the farmer’s market is fun, but it’s not quite convenient… yet.
Don’t get me wrong – I’d LOVE for the market to be a more regular occurrence in my shopping, but in the midst of Winter when I’m getting produce that really doesn’t matter if it’s organic or not (squash, oranges, bananas, etc.), then the stores within 1/2 mile of my house that take my debit card are MUCH more convenient that the market. You see what I’m saying? Hopefully this will change as time goes on, but this is where we are right now.
On the other hand, I’m already shopping at Costco each month. There’s a set grocery list that I buy from and I’m going for stuff, whether or not butter is on the list. Costco isn’t a special trip. It’s the norm.
Is making butter worth the money?
A half gallon of raw milk yielded me 6oz of cream, which produced about 1/4 cup of butter and scant 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Crunching the numbers:
- There are 8 cups in a half gallon. $7 per half gallon breaks down to 88¢ per cup and 11¢ per ounce. So 6 ounces of cream costs 66¢.
- It takes twice as much cream to make the same 1/2 cup of buttermilk, so the 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of butter from the 6 ounces of cream costs 44¢ and the 1/2 cup of buttermilk costs 22¢.
Total Cost to Make Butter = $3.52/lb
However, I’m not TRYING to make buttermilk. I only want to make butter. But because I don’t get a choice to make only butter and not buttermilk, the cost of the buttermilk is absorbed into the true cost of making butter.
Total TRUE Cost to Make Butter = $5.28/lb
One package of Kerrygold grass-fed butter costs $6.79 at Costco. Each package contains 1 1/2 pounds of butter.
Total Cost to Buy Butter = $4.52/lb
So then, is homemade butter worth it?
The answer again depends on the same two variables: time and money. If you have lots of free time and have access to cheap raw milk, then it would absolutely be worth making your own butter! However, if you’re short on time and raw milk is more than your grocery budget can afford, then this just might be something you should buy instead of make.
In my eCourse Grocery Budget Bootcamp, I teach the steps to evaluate whether making foods from scratch is worth it. Butter in my books, is not worth it at this point. However, I always make our own bread. You can learn more about Grocery Budget Bootcamp, HERE.
I came up with the following conclusions:
- If I can find raw butter for less than $5/lb, I should buy it.
- If I can find raw milk for $6 per half gallon, I should buy it and make my own butter.
- If I can find raw cream for $1.50 per pint, I should buy it and make my own butter.
The reality is that the lowest price of raw cream I’ve seen in my area is $10/pint, and the only way I’ll get raw milk for less than that is if I had my own cow. Which would be GREAT, but it’s just not happening anytime soon. Some places can’t even get raw milk legally, so there might be even greater challenges if you’re trying to make raw butter.
Here’s a formula for you to determine whether or not it’s worth it for you to make your own butter:
Cost of Raw Milk / Ounces in Your Jar = $ A (cost per ounce of raw milk/cream)
$ A x 6 = $ B (cost of 4 Tbsp raw butter)
$ B x 8 = $ C (cost of 1lb raw butter)
Remember that this formula is very generic. Your actual cost will depend on how much cream you’ll get from your raw milk. However, this is a great place to start if you’ve ever considered making your own butter and whether or not it’s worth it.
Time and money are likely the two biggest drawbacks to making your own butter, but there are some advantages:
- raw milk is likely locally sourced using sustainable practices
- you know the living conditions of the animal, and therefore quality of the milk
- can create whatever variation of butter you want: sweet, cultured, salted or unsalted
- it’s kinda fun!
How to Make Homemade Raw Butter
Allow raw milk to sit at room temperature for 8 hours. Line a glass bowl with a strainer and a coffee filter. Scoop cream from the top of the raw milk and place into a food processor or blender. Blend cream until the butterfat begins to separate from the liquids, approximately 2 minutes.
Pour liquid and butterfat into the lined strainer and allow liquid to strain through. Gently press butterfat to remove additional liquid. Remove butterfat to a clean cloth.
Wrap the cloth around the butterfat and squeeze gently to remove remaining liquid. Allow liquid to strain through the strainer.
Done! You’ve made butter!
- Raw Milk
- Allow raw milk to sit at room temperature for 8 hours.
- Line a glass bowl with a strainer and a coffee filter.
- Scoop cream from the top of the raw milk and place into a food processor or blender.
- Blend cream until the butterfat begins to separate from the liquids, approximately 2 minutes.
- Pour liquid and butterfat into the lined strainer and allow liquid to strain through. Gently press butterfat to remove additional liquid.
- Remove butterfat to a clean cloth.
- Wrap the cloth around the butterfat and squeeze gently to remove remaining liquid. Allow liquid to strain through the strainer.