Cultured Butter

Have you ever tried culturing your butter?

Making butter at home is pretty darn easy, it’s delicious, and you have the option of culturing it for a European twist.

Cultured butter is favoured in many European countries, but here in Australia it’s not very common. The basic jist is you add some mesophilic starter culture (the usual bacterial suspects you would use in cheesemaking) to your cream the day or night before butter making.

In the morning, the cream will have thickened to almost the consistency of mascarpone, and tastes similar as well.

This is the stuff that will be transformed into your lovely, light, long-preserving butter.

P1060867The differences I’ve noticed between cultured vs. non-cultured butter are:

  • Cultured butter keeps longer. In fact, I’d say over twice as long. Usually when we make regular, “sweet” butter, it develops a slight rancid taste after only 1 week in the fridge. Cultured butter still tastes fresh and light, like the day you made it, TWO WEEKS LATER. It’s amazing. I think it would be perfect to store in a butter crock for a few days to a week, if you like to have room temperature butter on hand.
  • It tastes better. By this I mean, for me anyway, it tastes fuller, more complex, just as creamy, and there is a big difference in the lightness of this butter compared to non-cultured. It seems to dissolve in your mouth, melt away into thin air, leaving no heavy mouthfeel or after-taste. It’s just so light. I don’t know how else to explain it. You will have to try it.
  • The actual making of this butter is quicker. The culturing process weakens the structure that keeps the fat globules apart, which helps to precipitate the butter a few minutes quicker than when using uncultured cream. (Want a bit of science behind butter making? Cream is composed of fat, water and a bit of protein. By agitating the cream, you’re sort of shaking the fat globules free of the structure that keeps them floating around in the liquid, and then they clump together to form the fatty, delicious spread that we love.)

So, that’s 3 pros in favour of cultured butter. Willing to try it?


The day before butter making, warm the cream to 20°C and add 1/4 teaspoon of mesophilic starter culture to 1 litre of cream.**(See note.)

Scale this ratio up or down for the amount you are making.

You can use any type of mesophilic culture. Each different strain will impart a different flavour, so make butter a few times and find out which one you like best. ;)

Let the cream sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours. This, again, is dependent on how strong you like the flavour. Want more bite? Leave it longer.

After this time, grab a spoon and do some scientific investigation and assess the consistency (should be similar to sour cream) and taste it to compare the before/after culture difference.

Then chill it in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight. Chilling it will help during the butter making process, as once the butter forms it will be firmer and easier to work with. It’s true that slightly warmer cream will form butter faster (because room temp. cream allows the fat globules to move around faster) but once formed, the butter will be very soft and may be difficult to work with. Try it out!

So. Your cream is ready and you’re ready to whip it.

Here we go . . .

1. The whipped cream stage. Yummm


2. Keep whipping until the solids (butter) separate from the buttermilk.


3. Work the solids with a spoon or paddle and drain off the liquid.


The liquid is yummy, cultured buttermilk. You can use it for baking (scones are brilliant, and you can enjoy them with your fresh butter!), or pancakes, or whatever you fancy. Tip: If you make pancakes, prepare the batter and let it rest for a few hours, or overnight. The culture in the buttermilk will work on the flour and turn them into the lightest pancakes ever.

Keep workin’ it and draining . . .


Squeeze and press the butter until you work out as much buttermilk as you can. If you want commercial grade butter, one way to remove all the buttermilk is to place the butter in some icy water and then knead it with your hands. The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk is released. Drain this off, pour fresh icy water over the butter and continue to repeat until the water is clear.

By removing all the buttermilk, you’re extending the life of the butter. However, as butter doesn’t last particularly long in my household, and because I’ve cultured it, which is a preservative measure anyway, I don’t bother being picky about the buttermilk.

So that’s it. Enjoy your fatty, living treasure. ;)

Oh and one more interesting point. If, by some chance, you are extremely lucky and have acquired some fresh, unadulterated, unpasteurised, living cream, you can try making cultured butter the old school way and leave the cream on the counter for a couple of days to sour (i.e. culture itself). Fresh cream has living cultures in it. You don’t need to add any other. After a couple days, whip it up and you will have some of the best butter any cow could offer. Please send me some.

By the way, I made bread too on butter making day:


Fresh, sourdough fruit bread with some fatty, living treasure and my special chicken mug.


**Note: Compared to some cheese recipes, this seems like heaps of culture. I’ve tried it with this much and about half this amount, and then left it to incubate longer. In both cases the butter turned out great, but with more culture = stronger flavour.


Wing Clipping!

If you keep chickens in a backyard and are worried they might fly over the fence to the dog next door, it might be a good idea to get out the scissors and snip their wings a bit.

When done correctly, it doesn’t hurt the chicken. It’s kind of like the equivalent of us getting a hair cut.

When I first considered doing this, I felt a little strange about it because basically you’re taking away the essence of what it means to be a bird – the ability to fly. But it was either that, or risk losing her to my neighbour’s dog. And this particular breed, Italian Anconas, are light-weight and flighty, so I decided against taking that risk.

I bought the hens from Christine Dinas, a breeder who runs Suburban Chooks near Melbourne.

Check out this video to see my awkward introduction to clipping chickens’ wings!


Quick Paneer

Paneer is one of the simplest cheeses you can make. You probably already have most of the equipment and ingredients needed in your kitchen.

It has a milky taste with a hint of lemon, the texture is firm enough for slicing but still soft in the mouth, and it doesn’t melt, so you can fry it in butter and serve with bread and fresh summer vegetables.


If, though, for some reason it doesn’t turn out quite right, don’t let that dampen your cheesemaking spirit. The beauty about cheesemaking is that the batch is never truly lost; simply collect whatever curds you have and call it by a different name.

Like with most new endeavours, there are lots of little tips and tricks to learn that can make or break a great result. Books are great for this and so are classes. But in the end, the ultimate teacher is the cheese itself.

Experiment and learn through trial and error. Expect to make mistakes. The fun part is pondering for days afterward until it clicks that this, this, or that, went wrong.

Paneer is a great cheese to start off with because it’s an “added-acid” cheese, meaning the milk is curdled by adding lemon juice, vinegar, yoghurt or even sour whey. And it can be made with most milk, including the cheap $1/litre homogenised milk sold at supermarkets. So, you’re in luck. If it turns out a little rubbery or whatever, it’s not going to cost much to try again!

A Plan for Paneer 

Paneer is made by heating milk to a very high temperature (almost boiling) and adding a small amount of acid. The resulting cheese is known as paneer in India and Middle Eastern countries, but the same cheese goes by different names in other parts of the world. In Italy it is called whole milk or sweet ricotta, in Mexico it is queso blanco (white cheese), in Greece it is mizithra and in the US it’s vinegar or lemon cheese.

The curd can be drained for a soft, crumbly texture or pressed for a firmer, grilling cheese.

From start to finish, including draining and pressing time, it took me about 2.5 hours. This may sound long, but there’s not much actual cooking time. Once you get it set up to drain, you can walk away.

My yield was 675g, after pressing, from 4 litres of cow milk. This can vary a bit, depending on the protein and fat content of the milk and how long you let it drain.



  • 2 x stock pots (to create a water bath. You can use direct heat, but use a heavy-bottomed pot and stir constantly so the milk doesn’t burn or create a skin at the bottom.)
  • slotted spoon
  • colander and bowl
  • cheese cloth
  • measuring jug
  • juicer (if using lemons. You can substitute white or cider vinegar.)
  • thermometer (optional)

If you’re simply going to drain the cheese, this is all the equipment you will need. If you would like to press it for a firmer, slicing cheese, the following can be used to make a press:

  • large bowl
  • 2 x dinner plates
  • some jars, cans or whatever you have on hand to act as weights



  • 4 litres whole milk (it can be fresh from the cow, or pasteurised/homogenised)
  • About 3/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar (white or cider)
  • 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste


If you’re not using a thermometer, it is easiest to bring the milk to a boil. However, it’s not necessary to heat the milk this much, so if you have a thermometer handy, heat milk to 91-93°C.

Once the temperature is reached, remove the pot from the heat source and let it cool for about 3-4 minutes. If using a thermometer, cool until it reaches about 88°C.

The purpose of letting the milk cool slightly is so that when you add the acid to curdle the milk, the curd will not be overcooked. If the temperature is too high, you run the risk of forming a rubbery curd.

You can stir the milk to help it cool quickly.

Add the acid 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring gently after each addition. The key here is to be gentle with the milk, especially with the curd after it forms. Keep adding acid until the curd separates. This occurred for me after I added just over 1/2 cup.


Curds and whey immediately after adding 1/2 cup of acid.

Let it sit uncovered for 5 to 20 minutes. This is to allow the curd to consolidate into one large mass.

Line the colander with the cheesecloth and gently ladle curds into it.


Allow to drain for 20 minutes. If you are going to press the curd, proceed to the next step. If not, allow to drain for a further 40 minutes or until desired texture is reached.

Once drained, gently work in the salt using a spoon.

If you are making soft paneer, then your cheese is done at this point. You can spread it on bread, mix herbs through it to make a dip or use in place of ricotta in recipes. Store it in a container in the fridge for about one week.

If you would like to press it, then after mixing in the salt, gently work the curd into the middle of the cheesecloth.

Pull up the 4 corners and twist them. Gently compress the curd by twisting the cloth and pushing down on it, forming a disc shape about 4 cm thick.


Open the cloth, smooth down the surface and wrap the curd by folding the cloth over one corner at a time. Try to wrap it firmly, so it forms a tight packet. Tuck any excess cloth underneath.


Now for the pressing. Take your large bowl and place one plate upside down inside it. Place the wrapped curd packet on top of that.


Place another inverted plate on top of the curd. Then use a jar or can or doovalacky to weigh it down. The total weight at this point should be around 1.5 kg.


After 10 minutes, increase the weight by another 1.5 kg. Press for 50 minutes.


After an hour of pressing, the curd should feel firm to the touch. Poke it and if it leaks whey, press longer.

This is after one hour of pressing:


It can be sliced and eaten immediately or stored in the fridge for later. The texture becomes smoother and easier to slice after chilling for about a day.

It will hold its shape when fried, grilled or used in stews and curries.


Recipe and cheese press ingenuity from Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell.


Mysteries of the Stabilised Paste

If you’ve been keeping in touch via my Facebook page, you may have noticed some updates about my less-than-gooey camembert:


Camembert aged 4 weeks.

I was disappointed when I cut into it. I thought simply that my eagerness had gotten the better of me and I cut it too early. Maybe if I’d waited another 2 or 3 weeks it would have developed a soft and oozy paste.

Well, now I believe that was not the case at all.

See, it wasn’t hard in the centre. It seemed to have matured evenly all round and was a bit springy to the touch. I’ve been reading about bloomy rind cheeses in Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell (which is a super resource by the way, especially if you want to learn more about the science behind it all), and I believe I made what is referred to as a stabilised paste.

In the words of Gianaclis: “A stabilised-paste, surface-ripened cheese is one that either never softens completely or has a delayed softening.”

These types of cheeses are made because they have a longer period of time in which they can be sold. A softer camembert or brie, on the other hand, may only be at peak ripeness for a few days or weeks.

I can see why stabilised paste (or stabilised curd) cheeses appeal to large producers, but this isn’t the kind of cheese I want to make at home! I want to make soft, sticky camembert that seeps when you cut into it.

Apparently it’s all in the pH. A stabilised type cheese is more alkaline than its sticky counterpart. I’m not at the stage yet where I’m able measure acidity levels, but there are a couple of indicators in the recipe that can help determine what kind of cheese you’re making.

First clue: thermophilic culture. The recipe I followed included this, and Gianaclis states that the most common method of making a stabilised paste is to replace part or all of the mesophilic culture with thermophilic. This will cause less acid to be produced in the cheese.

The other common method involves washing the curd during the draining stage. So, after the curds have released some whey, a portion of the whey is removed and replaced with water. This will remove some of the lactose in the curd, so the starter bacteria (culture) has less food to eat and therefore produces less acid.

So that’s how you can create a stabilised paste. And there’s nothing wrong with it, the taste is great, I just want to get my hands messy with a softer texture.

Speaking of pH levels, here’s a fun fact: some cheeses, like halloumi, have a non-melting characteristic. Why? Because they have a high pH (low acidity level).


Plum, Ginger and Rum Jam

The plums:


Their transformation:


The “ARRG” in my Pirate Plum Jam:


The making of:

I used Rachel Saunders’ Plum Jam recipe from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook as the basis for this jam. It’s a chunky jam, the sugar/fruit ratio is about 1:3 and total cooking time is approximately 1 hour.

This is the fourth plum jam (or maybe technically it’s called a conserve because I added rum) that I’ve made this summer. The first plum jam I made (my “Tiny Red Plums from the Vacant Block Across the Road Jam”) was from an English recipe and it called for equal parts sugar and fruit. I think that is waaay too much sugar. I halved it and it was still very sweet.

You don’t need to add a tonne of sugar to jam, only enough to support the natural sweetness of the fruit. If you can taste the sugar more than you can taste the fruit, I’d say it’s too much.

To help preserve the raw flavour of the fruit, Rachel cooks jam as quickly as possible, and this includes cooking in a wide pot to quicken water evaporation. I used a stock pot and had to cook it for a bit longer to reach the setting point.


Pirate Plum Jam

2.6kg plums (excluding pits)

800g sugar

80g freshly squeezed lemon juice plus 1 whole lemon

4 tbsp chopped ginger

Slug of rum

First of all, acquire your plums. They may be found at a farmer’s market, a produce swap, a friend’s backyard or, as in my case, the tree in front of the units a couple of streets over that everybody ignores and leaves all the plums to rot on the ground. Good news for me and my jam.

Then, pit your plums. I didn’t do this. These plums are tiny little tart marbles (which is probably why they don’t get eaten) and the pits are practically glued in. I removed them after the 1st stage of cooking, also time consuming.

Cut about half your plums into halves and the other half into quarters (or halves if they’re very soft). I divided them into 1.5kg for the halves and 1.1kg for the quarters. The quarters won’t be cooked as long as the halves and will hopefully retain some of their shape, adding fleshy bits to the jam. The halves will disintegrate entirely.

Macerate both lots of plums with the sugar, lemon juice and ginger for 24 hours. For 1.5kg of halves (1.750kg with the pits), I added 500g sugar and 40g freshly squeezed lemon juice. If I had my time over again, I would also add the chopped ginger to this mix. I didn’t think of this though, so I added it the next day during the cooking stage.

To 1.1kg of quarters, I added 300g sugar and 40g freshly squeezed lemon juice.


Plum halves with the pits still in, immediately after combining with sugar and lemon juice.


Plums quarters macerating.

As I mentioned, this is the fourth plum jam I’ve made this season, but it’s the first one that I’ve macerated. Of the other recipes I followed, only one said it would be a good thing to do, but I ignored it.

Well, it is totally worth it. This jam has the best texture of the lot, hands down. The sugar draws out the juice and breaks down the fruit, lessening the cooking time the next day and preserving more of its fresh, fruity flavour.

This is after 24 hours macerating:



The next day, cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice onto the plum halves and add the rind. This is when I also added the chopped ginger.

Cook the plum halves over medium heat until they soften, about 10 minutes. I cooked mine for 15 minutes so the flesh was broken down and it was easier to remove the pits. Then I spent some time fishing out all the pits.


Place a little tea cup saucer in the freezer, which you will use later to test the jam for doneness.

Add the plum quarters to the pot and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Boil for 30 to 45 minutes or until it thickens. Decrease the heat gradually as more moisture cooks out of the jam. Remove the lemon rinds towards the end.

As the jam thickens, you can test it to see if it has reached the setting point. Take your little saucer out of the freezer, put a dollop of jam on it and return it to the freezer for a couple of minutes. Remove the saucer and feel the bottom, it should be neither warm nor cool. Run your finger through the jam and if the surface of it wrinkles, it’s done.

At this point, I quickly stirred in a slug of rum and then ladled into jars that I sterilised in boiling water. Make sure the lid is tight, then leave to cool at room temperature. If you have lids with the little button in the middle, listen for the “pop” as the jam cools, contracts, and sucks the lid down.

A couple of notes:

  • Plums are high in pectin, so this jam naturally has a thick, pasty consistency.
  • I reduced the amount of sugar in Rachel’s recipe. This wasn’t by intention, I just accounted for the pits weighing more than they actually did.

Strawberry Jam Omelette


There’s something magical about collecting your own fresh eggs in the morning. Often they’re still warm, and cracked open in the pan reveal a perky yolk and gummy white.


In this last year that I’ve kept chickens, I’ve eaten more eggs than I ever have in my life. Though I’ve slunk into a routine of buttery fried eggs with whatever vegetable happens to be in the fridge, usually carrots, eggplant, zucchini or tomato.

This recipe gave me a new opportunity to showcase some gorgeous, fresh, fluffy eggs. It’s from a cookbook I bought at a library sale when I was a kid: Memories with Food at Gypsy House, written by Felicity and Roald Dahl.

I’d never cooked a meal in my life and wasn’t planning to (though I was a bit of a kid baker and made lots of cakes and bread). But this was written by Roald Dahl! Luckily I had enough pocket money. Here it is:

Ophelia’s Jam Omelette

Makes 1 big or 2 little omelettes.

3 fresh eggs, separated

a little icing sugar

1 tbsp milk

butter for frying

jam, heated for pouring on to the omelette (I used strawberry. I think any type of berry jam would be delicious with this.)


  1. Whisk the whites until stiff.
  2. Beat the egg yolks, milk and enough icing sugar to sweeten them.
  3. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture.
  4. Fry up 1 big omelette or separate into 2 little ones.
  5. When the underside becomes firm, pour a little jam over half of it and flop the other half over that.

Done! It’s really quick and is yummy with a coffee or tea.

Megg 26:12:12

Advice From a Queen Chooker: Coops

Megg 26:12:12

Megg, a lavender Araucana, at about 10 weeks young.

Living with chickens for the past year has been interesting. I brought them home when they were barely 6 weeks – little peeping packages of feathers.

Fast forward 5 months and you could find me checking the nesting boxes several times a day for any laying action. This went on for a few weeks. My girls were slow starters. Now they lay a bundle:


But before you start dreaming about sunset-orange egg yolks and mouth watering soft scrambled eggs on sourdough toast, you need to think about your chook housing options.

During our epic chooking adventure last year, I had a chance to peck Megg Miller’s brain (sorry about the pun! Sounds a bit sinister, doesn’t it?) about suitable coops. While the little wooden houses you can commonly find in pet stores around Melbourne may be cute, if you’re going to go down that route, inspect them to make sure they also have the following:

  • Good ventilation. Decomposing chook poo gives off ammonia gas which could harm their sensitive respiratory systems.
  • Protection from the elements and predators.
  • Enough space to sweep and clean easily.

Another option is a portable chook tractor or even just a simple, old-fashioned, airy shed. I’ll let Megg give you the details:

If you’re looking for more inspiration and tips on building a coop yourself, check out “The Contented Chook” by Gardening Australia. It features some creative chook palaces that have been built from all manner of bits and recycled bobs.