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Making butter with tweens

I just (re: this afternoon) joined the California Culinary Academy chapter of Slow Food. Our chapter has recently started working with James Lick Middle School in San Francisco, helping them start a community garden and teaching the children about local, sustainably produced food. I've been asked to give a talk/demo to a large group of 11 and 12 year old kids. I would normally try and tie the demo in with something in season from their garden. But it's January, and nothing is growing. I thought I could give a presentation on something that is available year round and rarely made at home: butter.

I'm just worried that they might be too old to really take an interest in shaking up heavy cream in a mason jar long enough to turn it into their own butter. The shaking does take about 15 minutes, and while it can be fun, it does start to get tiresome.

Do you think that an inner-city tween would find making butter interesting?

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  1. I work with inner city middle schoolers. Most of my students probably don't have any idea where their food comes from. I think they'd really enjoy seeing cream turn to butter, especially if they had something yummy to spread it on when it's finished.
    Good luck with your program. It sounds great.

    1. Sounds fun to me and I like the idea of having something yummy to spread it on so they can taste their own creation. Are there any herbs growing? Maybe you could do a compound butter? or even add honey (maybe bring in honey in a honeycomb? Lots of city kids haven't ever seen that) and make sweet honey butter for corn bread or something fun like that?

      1. I think the kids will love it. When I taught middle/high schoolers, most of them loved more active lessons/demonstrations. As long as they get to take part, they should be really interested to see how they can make butter.

        I remember when I was a senior in high school we made ice cream in chemistry class and had to throw around a ziplock for a good 15 minutes to get it to freeze. We all thought it was great, so I imagine if 17-18 year olds are okay making ice cream, 11-12 year olds will love making butter.

        1. You might consider making a few more things: whipped cream, homemade cheese, that sort of thing.

          1. They are older than most students who make butter at school but I think that you can make it work. The key will be to prepare an informative overview of the process that you can share with them while they are agitating the cream. Here is a good source if you need more material. In addition to a fair amount of detail on the butter making process, it has historical and global info.


            To keep it interesting, I would put them into small teams (ideally allowing for as many variables as possible - jar size, amount of cream, different ways to agitate it) and let them compete to see who can produce butter the fastest.

            Also I love the idea of adding another activity. I would want to stick with the same ingredient and I think that having them make whipped cream as well (also by hand) would give you a great discussion opportunity. Why does this ingredient act so differently when handled in two different ways? What are the differences between the butter making technique and whipping cream? (Also I would love them to taste whipped cream that does't have 42 times more sugar in it than it should!


            Oh and I agree that giving them some nice bread for the butter and some berries for the whipped cream will help seal the deal.

            1. Have you ever seen those kickballs for making ice cream? I wonder if there is something similar for making butter? Or maybe you could use the ice cream-maker ball. I bet they would get a huge kick out of it!

              1. If you do go the butter route, I would certainly add that shaking it up was/is not the way it is done. It is done with a churn. I grew up on a farm and, after my Mother skimmed the cream off the milk, we would sit and turn the churn, sometimes taking turns so it wouldn't be so onerous.

                1. Butter can be made in a food processor but it usually happens so fast that you cannot see the different phases.

                  I agree that you should also make some sort of bread for them to enjoy it on as part of the lesson.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    What kind of cream do you use for making butter? Regular supermarket cream? Isn't that homogenized so that the butterfat is really difficult to separate?

                    I tried making butter with my kids once, but we kept shaking that mason jar for ~ 1/2 hour and nothing happened. Would it have come in the food processor?

                    Another question: if I want to make cultured butter at home, how do I start?

                    1. re: Rasam

                      I would guess that for cultured butter you'd start with creme fraiche but that is only a guess.

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        Yes I suppose you would use creme fraiche. I'm even up to making my own creme fraiche and yogurt, but where to get non-homogenized dairy products? If the milk, cream, etc. have been homogenized, the fat globules become so super small that they never separate out.

                        1. re: Rasam

                          I have a local organic dairy that sells non-homogenized milk, but I doubt that situation is very common. The FDA has started cracking down on farmers that sell raw milk direct to consumers, but some farms have started sell shares of the dairy to bypass these regulations. Id ask at a health food store or a local co-op if there is a dairy that will sell non-homogenized milk.

                          Ive made butter successfully in a food processor, and it's more successful if you can find cream that hasn't been ultra-pasteurized.

                          I'm sorry that I took so long to reply.

                          1. re: Kelli2006

                            Thanks for the reply. I'm still searching for these elusive products.

                  2. They might find butter-making delicious, but there's a good chance that they've done this on many occasions already. Just about every elementary school and Sunday school class I ever attended as a kid made butter at some point.

                    I like small_h's suggestion of a cheesemaking demo. Maybe you could try making yogurt cheese? I know it takes a while, but you could bring in an example of the finished product and have the students set up a strainer during your visit, with directions on when / how to finish it up.

                    You could also have the kids plant indoor herb gardens during your session.