Considering Butter: A Philosophy of Homesteading   24 comments

An entry in The Household Economy

A few months back, I read a Sharon Astyk post in which she wrote about a new cookbook of sorts, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. In the book, Reese engages in a wide variety of food-centered homesteading activities, like making butter and baking bread, making her own prosciutto and camembert. As she tries these different tasks, she documents the process and makes recommendations for which to take the time to do yourself and which to go on purchasing from others, trying to figure out where one’s limited time is best invested.

I haven’t read the book but found the concept fascinating. About the same time I read about the book, I found myself thinking about this series of posts on homesteading, The Household Economy, and how exactly I wanted to approach the writing of it. While I’ve made clear that the intent of the series is to focus on the various ways in which I engage my own household economy in pursuit of my broader goals of voluntary poverty, self-reliance and a modest life built on minimal money and energy, I wondered in what exact way it made sense for me to write about these activities. A series of posts as little more than step-by-step guides didn’t seem logical to me, mainly for the reason that such guides already are abundant on the internet for most of the activities I’ll be engaging in. Indeed, many of my activities will be carried out with the help of online guides, as well as with certain books I own. Simply duplicating that information makes little sense.

These considerations at some point dovetailed with thoughts about Reese’s book and the idea of making the bread but simply buying the butter, assuming you didn’t have time to do both. Since I had surmised butter-making would be one of my regular homesteading activities this year, I wondered if the effort really made sense. The difference in taste between store bought butter and homemade butter did seem somewhat negligible and making butter—while not particularly hard—was a bit of a messy affair, and did require quite a bit of cream (at least to create the supply of butter I tend to use, with it standing in as my cooking fat most of the time.) Perhaps making my own butter didn’t make sense, after all.

Despite these uncertainties, I made my own butter anyway. I wanted to at least try it, if nothing else. The first time I made it was with cream bought at a co-op in Portland, from a small scale Oregon dairy. The process proved extremely simple, though I did make a mess of a number of dishes and it did require a bit more time than I expected. But despite the clean up, I wanted to make butter again.

Time passed before that happened, but I finally made a new batch of butter a few weeks ago. The cream for this butter came from my weekly supply of raw milk, skimmed off the top after sitting in the fridge for a few days. For some reason—perhaps due to some difference created during the pasteurization or perhaps because the skimmed cream was a lower fat content than the store bought cream—the process of making the butter took longer. However, since the agitation was done in a food processor, that proved to be the most minimal of inconveniences. It was more a curious occurrence than a problem.

The final product was quite tasty and I enjoyed eating the butter smeared on bread. I couldn’t say it was an order of magnitude better than store bought butter, though. Better, yes, but not to the same degree as, say, eating fresh baked bread right from the oven in comparison to bread from the store. Furthermore, for my gallon or so of raw milk, I skimmed off a little over a pint of cream and ended up with around a quarter pound of butter. The next week’s process proved more successful, with a better skimming of about a pint and a half and around six ounces of butter, but I still realized that it takes a lot of milk to produce a modest amount of butter.

I considered all these factors as I debated with myself as to whether or not to make butter regularly. The more I thought about it, the more variables I considered, until I finally managed to turn my consideration of butter into something of a philosophy of homesteading to be used for this series of posts. The philosophy is rooted in many of the same themes and considerations that have been and will continue permeating my How To Be Poor series on voluntary poverty, as well as the thoughts and ideas behind this blog in general. As such, the major underlying tenets that I’ll be using for this series are that I’ll be taking into account my own personal context, I’ll be looking to educate and demystify with these posts, and I’ll be focusing on patterns and systems. All of those tenets need further explanation, so if you don’t mind, I’ll now break out the bold.

Personal Context
The matter of butter illuminates this tenet well. I’m already receiving a gallon of raw milk each week. Raw milk, for those who may not be familiar with it, is simply milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. My milk comes from a local farm, it has a fat content higher than whole milk in the store, and it’s delicious. It comes in a steel milk pail that I return each week and which has a wide mouth lid on it. That means that each week, I can bring home my milk and leave it alone for a few days in the fridge until a good amount of the cream rises to the top, then I can skim off that cream and use it to make butter.

Already receiving that milk is my context—with that context being that I already have available to me a weekly source of high quality, locally-produced cream and it even comes in a container that makes it easy for me to skim off and separate that cream. Since I have that source available to me, it makes sense that I make use of it to provide myself with butter. If I didn’t have this available to me, then making my own butter at home might involve simply going to the store and buying cream, bringing it home and then using that to make my own butter. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not really creating the benefit of cutting out the middle man since I’m still buying the cream from the store, I’m probably not creating butter much different than what I could buy at the store, and I’m probably spending more money on it. What I’m doing instead, to a large degree, is simply introducing an extra step into my life for minimal benefit.

Now, that doesn’t mean it might not be a great step to introduce. If I simply really enjoy the process of making the butter, than that’s great. Homesteading is fun outside of moral, ethical or financial concerns, without question. But while that fun is going to be present in this series, I also am intent on rooting it in context, in what makes sense, in the sort of activities that my life already is arranged for. I want to take into account my context and work within that context, rather than creating habits without concern for the rest of my life.

In fact, this strikes me as the root of many of our problems in our society, and it contributes greatly to the unsustainability of our lives. I’ve written about this before and will write about it again, but it’s the fact that we don’t take into account our context and our personal situation when making so many of our decisions that brings us trouble. While personal debt, for instance, can arise out of situations out of our control, a good portion of it arises out of decisions made while ignoring our context, our personal reality. I know that has been the case for me before and there’s no question that our society and economy encourages this type of behavior. Our economy, in fact, is based on debt and expansion, regardless of the availability of resources for that expansion.

If we find ourselves with so much stuff that our living space is overflowing, we too often look for a bigger living space rather than getting rid of some of our stuff. We consistently, in this society and economy, default to bigger and more expensive, to growth and physical abundance, when we could just as easily default to smaller, more limited, constrained, and cheap (in the monetary sense, not the quality sense.) We’ve lost touch with thrift and have dismissed the idea of limits. When we have a problem, we as often as not look for solutions rooted in technology, energy and money rather than in solutions rooted in limitation and behavioral change. We look at the life we want and then do whatever we can to try to gain it, often to our detriment. We rarely look for the best life we are capable of having and then achieve it within the limits of our reality.

I don’t want to engage in every cool sounding homesteading activity just for the sake of doing it. I want it to arise naturally out of basic needs and my life’s circumstances. I want to make my butter not just because it’s fun—which, again, is a legitimate piece of this—but more importantly because it makes sense within the realities of my life. It flows from my circumstance and maximizes my resources. As such, it feeds my current goals rather than working against them. That’s important.

Education and Demystification
One of the critical goals that I think can be achieved through homesteading is the slow build of skills and knowledge used to make one’s own living. Every time we find ourselves purchasing something we need at the store, provided by someone whom we likely don’t know or care about and who doesn’t know or care about us, we make ourselves vulnerable. We reduce the sovereignty we have over ourselves and our livelihood, and we endanger our family and community. We put ourselves at the mercy of others—most often, at the mercy of massive and amoral corporations and too-often-corrupt bureaucracies. Meanwhile, these same corporations and bureaucracies are finding their supporting infrastructure weakened and at risk of collapse. The necessary resources for these massive entities are becoming more limited, more scarce, and in many cases are nearing full scale disappearance. Our state of dependence is an incredible danger, a huge vulnerability for most of us.

I’ve written plenty of times here on this blog about our need to reduce that state of dependence. Dramatically reducing the money, energy and resources we need is a big piece of limiting that dependence. Learning how to make, produce, or trade for many of our necessities is another huge piece and that’s the piece that I’ll be most focused on with this series. To successfully provide ourselves many of our own needs, though, we need a range of skills and education that many of us simply don’t have anymore. In just a few generations, we’ve lost a massive amount of knowledge and ability and now we need to relearn it as a culture as quickly as possible.

Assisting that need will be another tenet of this series. I want my posts not just to be how-to guides, but to attempt to break down the underlying ideas and theories that make these homesteading activities beneficial and even revolutionary. For instance, to understand why making butter makes sense for me, I need to know what butter is and where it comes from. Sure, I can decide that I want to make butter, look up a how-to guide on the internet, then go buy some cream and do the deed. But there’s still a dependency in that. If I instead have a more complete knowledge that tells me that butter is a mix of butterfat, milk proteins and water; that it’s created by agitating cream so as to join together the molecules of butterfat by breaking down their surrounding membranes; that the cream comes from milk; that cream will rise to the top of non-homogenized milk if left alone for a certain length of time; and that the cream can then be skimmed off the top of the milk with a ladle; well, if I know all these things and others, then I have the sort of knowledge that allows me to parse my own context and recognize that with my weekly supply of raw and non-homogenized milk, I also potentially have a weekly supply of cream, which I can then use to make butter.

Now, this may be known knowledge for a good number of people, but some out there don’t know it. But even if someone knows about butter, perhaps they don’t know anything about an enzyme cleaner, or why it is very effective at getting rid of certain stains and smells, or why it has many benefits over chemical cleaners, or how you make it at home, or the connection between why it gets rid of, say, the lingering smell of cat urine and why you can make it at home with some brown sugar and fruit trimmings. (Yes, I’ll be writing about this in a future post.) If you have all that knowledge, though, then you can begin to see and derive the sorts of patterns that effective homesteading make use of.

Patterns and Systems
Which brings me to the third tenet of these posts, which will be the exploration of patterns and systems. Let’s engage in one final consideration of my butter-making to better understand this.

If I want to reduce my energy consumption, save money, maximize my resources and better build my own self-sufficiency, I should absolutely make butter utilizing the gallon of milk I already get every week. The milk already exists. A good amount of cream already exists in that milk. I can bring the milk home, wait a couple days, skim the cream, and then make butter. In doing so, I’ve eliminated the need to buy at least some of my butter, if perhaps not all. That’s less butter that needs to be made by machines, brought to me by way of industrial farming. I’m eliminating one of my life’s inputs and I’m not creating a new one at all—I’m actually just more effectively utilizing another one. I’m reducing the fat content of my milk, granted, but I’m already operating at a calorie surplus. I can transfer that fat to the form of butter, cut out the imported butter, and not need extra calories to make that up. I’ve just saved money and energy by making my own butter from an already existing resource and reduced my consumption. In so doing, I’ve taken another step toward my goals of voluntary poverty, have created greater self-reliance, and am helping build a stronger community and local economy. That right there is the pattern of my behavior. But there’s a systemic piece to this, too, that I want to elaborate on.

If I’m anticipating a future in which large corporations and industrialism become less tenable and more expensive, and if I’m therefore looking to adjust my life so that it better fits into a local way of living—rooted in trade and barter, covenantal relationships and the sort of products and tools that can be made on a small scale, in a world of constrained energy and resources—well, then, my making butter fits that far better than my buying it. In such a world, there will almost certainly be a local dairy able to provide me a pail of raw milk each week. In such a world, there’s an excellent chance I could even barter or trade for that milk if I should need to, especially with the farming and ranching skills I’ve been developing. In such a world, I can just as easily skim the cream from my milk and I can even agitate it to make the butter without electricity if I should need to, transitioning from my food processor to a hand cranked mixer or just shaking the cream in a jar. Making butter at home currently uses some electricity, just by way of how I make it. But it doesn’t have to. There’s flexibility there and the adjustment could be made relatively easy if it needed to.

That sort of flexibility and resiliency doesn’t exist for the store bought butter. The butter in the store comes out of industrial systems, dependent on industrial-grade energy and resource feeds. They’re dependent on all the supporting infrastructure that comes with our industrial economy—all the infrastructure that would be very vulnerable in an energy- and resource-constrained world. That butter at the store is going to be much harder to barter or trade for, as well, if I should find myself short on money at some point. Nothing about that shelf of butter in the store makes much sense in a future beset by constraints on industrialism and it would be much harder to convert said shelf of butter to a low-energy way of life than it would be for me to switch from an electric food processor to a hand mixer or jar while making my butter. The systems I see us having to deal with in the future are going to be much different than the ones we deal with today. Making my butter at home fits that future system far, far better than buying my butter at the store.

Wendell Berry wrote an excellent essay some decades ago titled “Solving For Pattern” (PDF). In it, Berry writes, “A good solution acts within the larger pattern the way a healthy organ acts within the body.” Making my own butter seems like just such a good solution. It acts within the larger pattern, reducing my energy and resource usage while making use of already-existing resources and behavior, and further enhancing my life’s resiliency by increasing the flexibility with which I may react to the future. This small homesteading activity fits within the broader patterns—both existing and desired—of my life. It’s the exact sort of homesteading activity that I’ll be writing about in this series.

My hope is that by following the above principles, I’ll create a series that will prove a bit more holistic and informative than simply producing a number of how-to guides. While I still intend to include step-by-step instructions for these various homesteading activities, they’ll come after I provide the context of what I’m doing and how it fits into my goals. In this way, I hope this series will, more than anything, reinforce the idea of homesteading and a patterned approach to it that will prove beneficial in the sort of constrained future I think we face—or at least will prove beneficial for those looking to live their lives a bit more modestly, whether or not they think such modesty will turn into a necessity.

As should by now seem befitting, the first project I’ll be writing about is homemade raw butter. That will be the next post, arriving soon.


24 responses to “Considering Butter: A Philosophy of Homesteading

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  1. So now I want to know how to make my own butter. I don’t think it is difficult. Since I buy raw goat’s milk, do you think I can make butter from the cream (of sorts) on top?

    • You can make butter from goat’s milk. The main problem with that, though, is that the cream doesn’t separate in goat’s milk nearly so well as in cow’s milk. The fat globules are smaller and stay suspended better, sort of like a natural homogenization. So you won’t get as much skimming and would thus need a whole lot of milk, probably, to get enough cream to make it worthwhile. It sounds like you would probably need a cream separator.

  2. I applaud your approach of describing an activity, why you choose to do it, and how that fits into a greater context. Thanks for this and the Wendell Berry link. He’s great.

    • Thanks, Isaac! Wendell Berry is pretty fantastic, indeed. I always love the coherency of his arguments. Even when I don’t agree with him, which is rare, he makes a sensible and compelling argument.

  3. Whew! I’m not certain whether you’re attempting to educate or confound, Joel – not being critical really, but a simpler exposition might have been more conducive to understanding what it is you’re getting at.

    I Grok your purpose, however, (at least I think I do) in being thorough about the mental gymnastics one might have to go through in order to come to some conclusions about process.

    Another ‘however’ is that usually things just evolve after some experimentation without so much forethought.

    For example, I spent my childhood during a time (late Great Depression, WWII era) when my family grew most of what we ate; we didn’t have a ‘farm’, just an acre of flat ground with pretty good soil. We raised chickens and rabbits and had a large garden and a small orchard. A neighbor up the road had a cow or two but no poultry or rabbits – we traded eggs and meat for milk and butter. Someone else had a peach orchard – we had no peach trees, but my folks and my older siblings traded picking fruit for some of the surplus. It was the same with a lot of other things that were generally in short supply. Years later I asked my Dad how, exactly, all this came about; was it pre-planned, did he and Mom sit down with the neighbors and others and work it all out ahead of time, or what? He said something to the effect that, ‘No, we all just did what we felt was necessary and went from there – word got around about who had what and who was in need and we all just naturally figured it out. We didn’t even know a lot of the people we dealt with.’

    I suppose one could say that the ‘natural’ way, the sustainable way, is through trial and error and not repeating the same mistakes twice, if one can help it.

    • Well, Martin, if there are two things I’m an expert at (sorry, couldn’t resist) it’s overthinking things and being long winded—in my writing, at least. I was kind of amazed when I finished the post and found it to be over 3,000 words, and without me even having put in the butter-making steps, which was the original plan. To be clear, I didn’t actually sit down and think all this out in one go. This is just the gathering together of many thoughts that came and went over the course of weeks.

      I probably did lose some of my points in verbosity. Once I finish a post like this, I’m determined to get it posted and generally unable to do more than a cursory read through and edit, even if I have a sense it needs a much more extensive edit. Believe it or not, I did cut a couple hundred words out of this.

      Perhaps one day I’ll go back through this blog, edit the hell out of it, and compile it into a much more tight and focused ebook, or some such thing. I do keep that idea in the back of my mind.

      Anyway, I somehow in all those words didn’t get to two other goals, which is making sure I’m doing things I enjoy and also that I experiment a bit. I’m with you on the need for experimentation. I’ll figure this out as I go and I’m sure I’ll eventually settle into a pattern of certain regular activities, with new activities mixed in.

      One of the things that gives me a lot of hope is exactly what you’re talking about—the way that small communities can often cover needs through a sort of unconscious organizing. If people just follow their passions and interests and do the things that make sense for them, you can generally piece together a pretty good existence from the combination of those skills and that work within a community that’s not too small. For instance, I think it’s clear I love dairy and I would love to get more into cheesemaking and such, but do I really want to get some goats and milk them? I’ve talked about that in passing, but it’s unlikely I will, if only because I’m not really sure I want the responsibility of regular milking. But I’ll always be able to get my hands on fresh milk in this area via trade and barter, or money if I have it. And in that sense—with the number of dairies and hobby milking around here—why would I get milk goats unless I really, really wanted to do it? Might as well focus on other things and allow my neighbors to keep taking care of some of my needs.

      • Well, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity for a crit. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard of the K.I.S.S. protocol…

        By the way, I’ve known a few cheesemakers over the years and none of them kept (or maintained) critters other than a dog and/or a cat. Nor do beermakers usually grow their own grain or hops, for example. Probably good to know how though.

        • I definitely know the protocol, just not that good at following it. In fact, I dare say I’m a master at subverting it.

          I know of one local woman who has goats, milks them, and makes chevre. I don’t know that she does much other cheesemaking, though. I think the chevre is something basic that stems from the milking, rather than her milking being in service of her cheesemaking. Another local guy who is really into making cheese just gets his milk from local dairies and then keeps his efforts focused on the craft of cheese making. I think if you’re serious about it, that probably makes sense.

          However, you inadvertently hit on one of my dreams, which is to have something of a farm focused on the production of hops, barley and whatever other malts could be grown in the NW and a brewery, as well. A farm brewery, so to speak. I’ve heard of a few of these, but they’re not common. I think that would be fantastic, though, and could be quite a good business venture so long as there are people out there with a bit of disposable income. I don’t imagine I’ll ever make this dream happen, but I do like dreaming it.

          In general, though, I’m someone who often thinks big and then tends to act small. A few good homesteading tasks will, in the end, likely be the extent of my activity. I’ll focus in eventually, just because I enjoy having lots of free time to read and think. I think I realize at this point that the only thing that’s going to change that habit of mine is if everything really does collapse and there are too many necessary tasks for me to have that much free time.

  4. Hi Joel,

    Nice post. It is a conundrum between making bread and making butter. Home made bread is certainly much better than shop bought bread, although you did comment a few weeks back that you have a good local baker. As JMG might say, it is a predicament rather than a problem.

    You have the eye of an observational scientist. Milk is not a consistent product throughout the year as the flavour, fat content and obviously some compounds therein varies depending on the diet of the particular cows. Feedlot cattle are fed a pretty consistent diet, but as you buy from a co-op (I’m assuming they’re not feedlot), those cows will be eating all manner of different stuff throughout the year. The healthier the paddocks that they graze in too, the more diverse will be the cows diet. Out this way a good paddock will contain about 40 to 60 different varieties of plant.

    A local farmer was telling me about this because in spring here you get a weed called capeweed which the cows graze on, but it gives the milk a mildly sour taste which you can only detect when you heat the milk. This variety of feed also affects fat content too – as does the weather – which would certainly impact your butter making endeavours.

    Yeah, I’m heating the milk for coffee and you really can taste the difference here. I know a cafe owner in Melbourne who is a real coffee nut – his family grow the beans up north (that would mean south for you) and he roasts them at the cafe – and he only buys his milk from a particular supplier. I envy you your raw milk.

    It’s been an interesting week here, which may be of interest to you too. The LPG gas ran out on Friday night and they only deliver on Fridays… It’s a great test for all of the backup systems for hot water and cooking. The solar hot water and the wet back on the wood box heat the water, so that is not really a drama. Still, I mainly use the LPG for cooking on, particularly bread and it has decided to have an indian summer here after the cold spell (apparently La Nina has now ended). I’ve had to turn my meals on their head and make the bread at night in the wood box oven when it is cooler rather than heat the house up during the day. Oh well, I’ll let you know how it goes by Friday though!

    Speaking of the domestic economy too, we’ve been storing dried firewood in the new firewood containers too (thanks to the tip) and now probably have about 3 – 4 months of dried timber under cover and ready to go. Woo Hoo! We picked up at the tip again an old galvanised iron water tank and I convert these using an angle grinder to raised no dig vegetable beds. This new tank made beds numbers 13 and 14 which will be mostly dedicated to the herbs.

    By the way you and the commenters here have cottoned on (or commented on) as to how a village naturally evolves.

    Regards. Chris

    • Hi Chris –
      Your farmer friend is absolutely correct with regard to the effect feed has on cow’s milk. The neighbor I referred to above in my response to Joel only had a couple of acres and, as I recall, two cows so he would at times have to pasture them outside his own digs on other neighbor’s lots. Once in awhile he’d put one of them on an odd corner of our acre that we weren’t using. Anyway, the result was interesting flavors in the milk – for example, our odd corner had quite a lot of wild mint growing on it so that we could usually tell when we’d get milk from the cow pastured on our place. And you’re right about the evolution of villages. We never quite got there, but the relationships that were developed lasted a long time after the war ended. You don’t often see that kind of co-evolution and co-reliance in neighborhoods nowadays and it’s really too bad.

      • One of the things I love about this are out here, Martin, is how much of that co-evolution and co-reliance happens. There’s a lot of trade and barter that happens out here and if you put yourself out there, opportunities seem to arise. I just picked up my third job yesterday, traded meat for seed potatoes tonight, and am facilitating a lot of other trade via the different farms I work for and the farm I worked for last year. It really is a great sense of community out here. Perhaps the trading partners are more spread out than they would have been a century or two ago, but it’s pretty great to be a part of a community that takes advantage of each others’ strengths.

    • Chris, yes, the milk is certainly effected by the changing feed throughout the year. That’s one of the things I noticed about raw milk when I began drinking it—how you could taste that difference as the seasons cycled. We’re coming into some nice spring growth right around now which should make for some heavier fat content in the milk. It’ll be interesting to taste the difference.

      It’s also quite interesting to see the difference in the rate of souring on the milk. Much of this has to do with how well you keep the milk cold, of course, and lately I’ve been able to keep my milk almost two weeks without it getting too funky because I have a colder fridge to work with at the new place than I did at the old place. I probably should turn it down a bit, actually, to save the energy—but the shelf life of the milk has been really nice. It’s allowing me a cycle of allowing my new milk to sit for a few days for good cream separation while I’m still drinking the last of the previous week’s milk. It’s proving a good system. But anyway, I remember a couple years ago I noticed that the raw milk I was getting at the time was going sour more quickly than it had before—within about a week, which was at least a few days quicker than normal. I talked with the milkers and they said that it was a matter of the bacteria count being up a bit in the milk, which they were monitoring through regular testing. It wasn’t to a dangerous degree, but they talked about how the bacteria count will change over the course of the year, sometimes being higher and sometimes lower, and that could make a difference in how long the milk would last.

      Anyway, sounds like you’re in for an interesting week of energy usage. I can identify with your cooking conundrum. Last year, one of the things we had to take into account with meals was that baking was much a different beast in the summer. When the days were warm, you certainly didn’t want to fire up the wood stove in the house to add to the heat, so you either had to forgo baking or we could do it in the cob pizza oven outside. However, that required quite a lot of wood to heat and a couple hours of firing before it was ready to go, so it was no casual job to bake in that. I would fire it up for pizzas occasionally, making three or four pizzas once it was hot, and there were a few times we fired and then baked out a few different things—bake some salmon, make a crisp, and so on. But mostly we just stuck to meals that we could make on the electric hot plate in the kitchen or on the rocket stove outside.

      But then, I like that. It’s just one more element that makes the different seasons separate and meaningful and unique. One of the great parts of this way of living is having such a strong sense and awareness of the seasons. It’s not the same routine twelve months out of the year.

      Good work on the firewood and the new raised beds! I love the salvaging action. Do keep me up to date on how the week goes with the missing LPG.

  5. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the reply. Wild mint flavoured milk! The same thing happens for eggs too. My reading of depression era histories from around this way reflects your comments too. I sometimes think that as a society we swapped lack of social cohesion for anonymity.

    Hi Joel,

    Reading the paper this morning shows that the cat is now out of the bag.The references to Coles and Woolworths are the 2 main supermarket retailers in the country. There is speculation that they have used their duopoly status and private label products to force milk prices down to $1/litre (3.8 litres to the gallon).

    People pick quantity over quality most times.



    • People certainly do, Chris. Your permeate issue sounds quite a bit like the “pink slime” furor that’s been taking place over here in regards to ground beef. It’s always a bit surprising to me when people are shocked to find out their $1 fast food hamburger has fillers in it. It’s amazing to me how removed people are from the realities of food production—the cost and labor that goes into providing food, even when it’s cheap, industrial food.

      That article made me wonder if permeate is allowed in U.S. milk. I’m also consistently amazed at how cheap the house brand milk at the supermarket is. Thank god I have a good supply of real milk.

      I also am curious what the difference is between milk permeate and whey. They sound very similar.

  6. Hmm… brown sugar and fruit trimmings… how very interesting… I love enzymatic cleaners, but I had no idea they could be homemade.

    I think there is another consideration that affects the other 3 but is distinct: maybe call it community context. Between homemade and store-bought there is locally produced. Granted, you have to be in the right community for that to work. Also, in an equipment- and knowledge-limited future context, splitting up tasks may be beneficial. Making butter doesn’t seem to require too much special equipment or knowledge, but there also is the question of time and energy efficiency. Also, there is the kind of option frequently seen in cohousing, where one person does one particular job one day, and they rotate through everyone.

    Your posts are like a five-course meal: a little intimidating at first, but always satisfying in the end.

    • Thanks, John! I’ll take that final line as a compliment, though the intimidation may limit my audience. So be it. Even when I try to keep myself in check, I tend to get verbose.

      To be honest, I haven’t yet tried the homemade enzyme cleaner, but I’m going to whip up a batch shortly. The downside is that it’s supposed to take three months before it’s ready. The upside is I have a whole lot of enzyme-laden whey from raw milk. I think I can speed up the process.

      Community context is an excellent point, and you’re right in that I didn’t really address it. I think that’s what Martin was getting at above. And as I also noted above in a reply, I’m in a pretty great community for that. In fact, I was just talking to Tammi, one of the owner’s of the other farm I work for, about how tempting it is to not even worry about the garden and just trade meat with Ginger (who owns the farm I worked at last year) for veggies. They raise great meat, Ginger grows great veggies, why even bother with the garden? But as Tammi noted, she really does enjoy watching the food grow and having her hand in it. So she does it. Of course, they still do quite a bit of trading with Ginger and rely on her for the occasional winter vegetables, as well. So I suppose there’s your compromise. Grow some on your own, but still trade with your neighbors to make up the difference.

      I’ll work to keep the community context in mind with future posts, as well. Thanks for noting that.

  7. Hmmm. So the entire trajectory of your life, the arc, is to maneuver yourself into a position where a gallon of raw milk is available every week?
    🙂 (As a side note, I morn the falling out of use, of emoticons. How else to indicate that I’m not sniping, but am teasing. I’m very much given to wry, dry humor. But, someone told me only young girls still use them. I really didn’t even notice that they had disappeared. But even I, in correspondence, have occasionally written “Insert overused smiley face here.”)

    Another aspect of this topic is convenience as opposed to resilience. John Michael Greer had a long post about that. I don’t quit know how to boil it down, but if convenience disappears, you need resilience to replace it. If butter disappears from the store shelves, or becomes very expensive, access to raw milk and the knowledge to make butter make you resilient to it’s disappearance or cost.

    The business about the diet of cows impacting taste and cream content reminded me of something I read about eggs. Some chefs are VERY particular about eggs. They won’t attempt some recipes at some times of the year as the quality of the eggs adversely impacts the outcome.

    As far as cooking in the summer goes, perhaps the concept of the “summer kitchen” needs to be reexamined. In my grandmother’s time, even in Minnesota, the summer kitchen was pretty standard on farms. A separate building, shaded and well ventilated. It’s where the heavy baking and canning took place.

    • Actually, considering my love of raw milk, I wouldn’t put it past myself to basically live my life in whatever way provided me a gallon a week. It’s a pretty fantastic feeling bringing that home each week. 🙂 <—- (That's me agreeing, also, with your emoticon defense. I break out the smileys now and again for the exact reason you note.)

      I probably read that convenience vs. resilience post, but it's exact details aren't coming to mind. I'll have to see if I can scrounge it up and take another look. But yes, the resilience seems important to me. I would be mighty sad if I lost access to butter–knowing I'm at least somewhat insulated from such a risk is nice. (Of course, butter isn't so much what I'm worried about as I can't imagine it getting too expensive, at least in comparison to other goods. More so than the butter, I feel mighty good about having cut out so many of the modern world's distractions that so many people feel are necessary. I don't have to worry about the cable bill going up, for instance, and even if I lost the internet I wouldn't mind that much, though it would certainly have its inconveniences and I would miss aspects of it.)

      The place I was at last year is actually going to tear down the cob oven I mentioned above (which was never finished, has too small of an opening, and rarely gets used) and is going to make up a full, proper outdoor kitchen. So that will be great for the summer cooking. As for canning, we did that with a propane ring outside and it worked great. Firing up the wood stove for that in the middle of summer would have been a nightmare.

      Finally, it in general is amazing how much variation there is in the taste of food depending on where and how it's grown when it's not being produced via standardized, mechanical means. I look forward to a future when individuality and variation is much more the norm again rather than the standardization of industrialism.

  8. Hi Lew,

    100 years ago here, kitchens were in separate buildings to the main house not only because of the heat during summer, but also because there were so many kitchen fires. It was a real problem. A lot of people used bricks to make ovens, like a scotch oven. You need to make these things a couple of bricks deep, plus have the bricks overlapping, because the mortar eventually shrinks if the ingredients weren’t just right. A strong fire can work it’s way through the gaps in the mortar seeking oxygen which is a real problem.

    Regards. Chris

  9. Pingback: How To Make Raw Butter « Of The Hands

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