Inspired by an article by Thomas on A Growing Tradition, I tried my hand at making butter. It is amazingly easy and fast. Thomas provides detailed, step-by-step instructions, so check out his article if you want to try this. Below I have a few photos documenting my first attempt at this.
I used a stand mixer rather than a hand mixer. Apparently you can also use a food processor, which might be a good idea because it provides a sealed container to minimize splashing. I placed a quart of heavy cream (room temperature) in the bowl and used the whisk on medium speed.
In just a few minutes I had whipped cream. At this point you have to be vigilant. Above you can see the butter cream starting to separate. The fluffy white of whipped cream starts to look like oatmeal. Very quickly the butter fat will separate and butter will form and cling to the whisk, so you have to be prepared to stop the mixer or risk sloshing the buttermilk all over the kitchen (speaking from experience here).
The butter fat is now separated and clinging to the whisk. Note the buttermilk dripping off the mixer head. I did warn you to be vigilant.
I lined a sieve with several layers of supermarket cheesecloth and strained the butter into a bowl. I then rolled the butter up with the cheesecloth and tried to squeeze out any liquid. The supermarket cheesecloth is really, well, cheesy. I need to buy some butter muslin from a cheese supply shop. The muslin is more substantial and can be washed and re-used.
The butter is then placed in a shallow bowl and a teaspoon of kosher salt was added and worked into the butter with a metal spoon.
The salted butter was placed on a sheet of parchment paper and formed into a brick. The butter was then wrapped up with the parchment and placed in the refrigerator to cure for a day. One quart of heavy cream produced one pound of sweet cream butter. I had to lick the spoon and I can say the flavor of the butter is sweet and creamy. I will definitely be making this again.
On the advice of Beth, I purchased a butter bell or butter crock (you can find them on Lehmans or Amazon). The cup holds a stick of butter or a quarter pound. The bottom of the crock is filled with about an inch of cold water. When the cup is inverted and inserted into the crock (not dropped or it will splash water), the surface of the butter is under water and protected from air. Butter will supposedly keep for up to a month at room temperature if the water is changed every couple of days.