The Dairy Products You Should Make at Home, From Simple to Even Simpler

March 11, 2016

Since I live on an Irish grass-fed dairy farm, it wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t make my own butter, cheeses, and ice cream on a regular basis—I have carte blanche access to gorgeous raw milk.

But if you're living a city-centric busy life, you might think twice about taking the time to prepare dairy basics when you can easily source a bucketload of brands from the corner market.

And because you might take a bit more convincing to DIY your own dairy products, here are my top 5 reasons:

  1. Flavor. For me, the number one reason to give DIY dairy a go is the wholesome, show-stopping, fresh, pure, sweet taste with an ultra-creamy texture that, I promise, is incomparable to anything you’ll ever find at the supermarket.
  2. Goodness. There is a fundamental goodness derived from using honest, time-honored farmhouse skills even if you are living in a Brooklyn brownstone. Trust me, when you witness that butterfat separating from the milk, you’ll feel like you won the lottery.
  3. It’s ridiculously easy. Some preparations, like evaporated or condensed milk or clotted cream, are a bit more time consuming, but with only 1 to 2 steps per recipe, anyone can do it.
  4. Sovereignty. When you make it yourself, you decide what it's made of and where your milk or cream is sourced from. When you DIY, there are only one or two natural ingredients to begin with, and absolutely no preservatives.
  5. Gifting/special events. If you can’t muster up the wherewithal to make butter for yourself, then by all means make some to share with others. Fresh butter will go a long way on the dinner party table and homemade clotted cream for afternoon tea will always win everyone over.

I’ve created a little cheat sheet of creamy confections, from simplest to most involved:

No Brainer

  • Butter
    You can have the best butter you’ve ever encountered in 15 minutes or less. I pop cream into my stand mixer while I am preparing lunch and let it whirl on its own. Ten minutes later, the butterfat has separated from the milk and you have butter! All you need to do is pour it through a strainer press the buttermilk out through a thin piece of muslin, shape it anyway you wish, flavor it if you please, and put it on the table or wrap it up and bring it to a dinner party as a beautiful hostess gift. (You can also use a hand-mixer or an old-fashioned butter churn which is a bit more time-consuming.)
  • Buttermilk
    If it comes from the byproduct of the butter-making, it couldn’t be easier. Simply pour it out of the basin in which you’ve churned your butter and you have a super fresh and light milk that is perfection for baking bread or biscuits. Cultured buttermilk is a matter of tempering regular milk with an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar) and allowing it to slightly curdle.

  • Sour Cream
    This is just like the name implies: soured cream. Simply mix heavy cream with buttermilk and allow to sit overnight, and poof, the best damn sour cream you’ve ever had on a baked potato.

A Little More Effort

  • Ice Cream
    There are several ways to make ice cream: One is to make a custard base, and the other, which I prefer and is sometimes referred to as American- or Philadelphia-style is just a matter of heating cream with sugar, infusing it with a flavor, allowing it to cool to room temperature, and then churning by hand or with an ice cream maker. There are also several versions of no-churn ice cream.

  • Farmer Cheese, a.k.a. Cheat’s Ricotta
    Just takes a couple of steps, a saucepan, and stove. Heat full-fat milk to just about boiling, take off the heat, and add your acid of choice. Curds will form. Allow to cool, then strain through cheesecloth and devour. If you use heavy cream in this process, you will be rewarded with a mascarpone-style cheese. I highly recommend it.

  • Crème Fraiche
    Combine heavy cream and buttermilk in a saucepan, then heat to lukewarm. Stand at room temperature for a day, then refrigerate; it’s ready to use the next day.

  • Sweetened Condensed and Evaporated Milk
    Both are easy-peasy but require keeping a constant cautious eye on their progress, which could mean an afternoon in the kitchen. Having said that, if you are making a tres leches cake and you use homemade milks, you’ll never prepare it using the canned version again.

Mad Skills

(Okay, not really mad skills: Just a few more ingredients and steps.)

  • Yogurt
    This involves heating a yogurt starter (with probiotics) with milk and then allowing it to sit covered at a constant temperature for 24 hours. Once you have your first batch, you can keep using your starter for future batches.

  • Cream Cheese
    This requires full-fat whole milk, heavy cream, buttermilk, and rennet. Heat the milk and cream, then add buttermilk followed by rennet. Cover and leave it to set overnight, then sprinkle with a bit of salt, strain the cheese through cheesecloth, refrigerate, and serve with bagels and lox from Russ & Daughters the next morning!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Craig
  • Jojo Frey
    Jojo Frey
  • MforMagpie
  • Vivian | stayaliveandcooking
    Vivian | stayaliveandcooking
American City Meets Irish Countryside


Craig March 22, 2017
Imen: I've tried making clotted cream at home but the cream never gets quite thick. Of course, I recently realized all my heavy cream was ultra-pasteurized.

Any suggestions?
Jojo F. March 24, 2016
Or you could use a new-fashioned butter churn to make your own butter by hand. :) It's hard to beat fresh, pure slow-churned butter!
Check us out:
MforMagpie March 11, 2016
Cultured buttermilk is made by adding a store-bought dried bacterial culture to milk, or adding a bit of a previous batch of cultured buttermilk to milk, and allowing it to develop - much like the way yogurt is typically made at home. Adding a souring agent to milk, such as vinegar or lemon juice, produces fresh-soured milk which will stand in for some uses where cultured buttermilk is called for (to activate baking soda in a baking recipe, for example) but is not in any sense **buttermilk**, cultured or otherwise. That quibble aside, what a great overview!
Vivian |. March 11, 2016
I love the farmers cheese one: that looks delicious.