Sunday, March 23, 2014

The making of Butter, Ghee, Paneer and Whey Water

Neyyi in Telugu: 
The other day, while I was making neyyi (called Ghee in Hindi and in international circles), I realized that our dear blog doesn't have a recipe on the making of ghee!! 
It is surprising that we missed posting this recipe this long. This blog boasts 'maa vanTinTilo vanDay vanTalu, mee kosam! Food that we cook in our kitchen, for you!'. Well, food cooked in our kitchens is totally incomplete without the addition of neyyi! The first food fed to toddlers is mudda pappu-annam with neyyi
I looooovvvvved neyyi as a kid and love it even today.
Meanwhile, I came across some ladies online, who had absolutely no clue on how butter, cheese, yogurt, Ghee, etc are processed at home! 
I have always seen butter, yogurt, paneer etc being made at home, so I was quite shocked to see a bunch of ladies on the Internet who had no idea on how to go about cooking these at home, they were complaining on how expensive it is to buy ghee from a retailer online.
One generation stops processing a food at home and purchases it from the store to save on time. The second generation continues buying the said food from the store, but does recollect how mom always made it at home in their childhood. The third generation grows up watching the said food only being bought in stores.. And slowly, people forget that it could have been made at home, they forget the process & the culture we carry through our food preparation practices. It feels impossible to process that food fresh at home without preservatives, we end up having no idea where it is sourced from and what goes into manufacturing it.
This meme comes to mind:

Many a times, when mom recollects her childhood, she tells me how her nainamma made something at home from scratch, or some now-forgotten festival that nainamma marked.. She describes some procedure or manual equipment in great detail and finally wonders if these methods are any longer practised back in the village, if those tools & professions exist, wondering if that indigenous knowledge & culture is lost... Mom has seen some now-forgotten festivals, rituals in her childhood. Where fireworks were handmade using coconut fibre, sponsored by the village chief, to entertain the entire village. Where every process & product was sustainable and friendly to the environment & people.
So in the spirit of preserving our culture, let's recollect how to make ghee & much more at home!! 

Ingredients & Equipment:
Milk Cream: The quantity doesn't matter. Smaller batches are easier to work with, choose the amount you feel comfortable processing.
Ice Cubes
Lemon juice/Vinegar/Apple Cider Vinegar (a teaspoon of any acid will do)
Two cooking vessels (one to hold butter, one to hold buttermilk)
Two cups/containers (one for paneer, one for fried milk solids/Gasi in Telugu)
Muslin cloth or stainless steel sieve 
Wooden spoon for stirring/pressing
Leak-proof bottle (a polythene sheet placed between the bottle & its top works well at leak-proofing any bottle)
Hand-blender or Food Processor (if available, not a necessity but a great comfort)

The Collection of Cream:
Firstly, we need pure raw whole milk. Milk that has not been treated in any way. Pasteurized, homogenized, low-fat milk doesn't work. Just get the milk from Mrs.Cow. Or Mrs.Buffalo. 
I don't have any experience with working on goat/camel milk, I think goat milk is very low fat so not sure if we can skim enough cream off it to make butter, ghee??!! I never heard of goat/camel ghee, though I have heard of goat cheese :)
If you are sure of your milk's source, you can consume it raw but I have always boiled mine in Nairobi. 
When the milk vessel is placed to cool in the fridge, a thick layer of cream floats to the top. Skim it off and store in the freezer. Continue doing this everyday until you have a container of cream in the freezer, took me a week's time.


I The churning of butterTakes around half an hour if done completely by hand. 
Place thawed cream in a leak-proof bottle and shake it. It will initially turn very thick (heavy whipped cream) and feels like nothing is shaking/moving inside, a stone solid mass. (This whipped cream by the way, is used to decorate cakes after adding sugar to sweeten it, tastes great unsweetened with fruit salad.)
I used a hand blender to speed up this step, the blender helped the cream to reach a very heavy whipped cream consistency in a minute. When the cream was too heavy to move the blender through, I took the blender out & continued shaking the bottle by hand. (Traditionally, people have also used a churner/Kavvam (Telugu) for this, where you churn the cream by hand using a churner until the butter & buttermilk separate. Although I have not tried it, I am sure a Food Processor would make this entire process very easy.)
Continue shaking the bottle, milky water (buttermilk) starts coming out of the mass & it loosens, so we can hear it tumble around in the bottle. As you continue shaking, beads of butter start forming while more buttermilk starts separating, so we can hear the liquid swish as we shake the bottle. If the weather is warm, add two ice cubes at this stage, so that the butter cools & hardens, otherwise it is difficult to separate soft warm butter from the buttermilk later. Be careful about when you add the ice, if added too soon, it merely melts & adds volume to the cream being shaken. Continue shaking. When you see buttermilk (it looks just like milk) with pearl-sized butter beads floating on the top, stop agitating the bottle. 
If you continue shaking beyond this stage, the beads of butter continue coming together & grow larger. Don't waste your energy, we don't need large beads ;-) 
Place a clean muslin cloth over an empty vessel & upturn the bottle of butter beads+buttermilk into it. The buttermilk runs through the muslin cloth & falls into the empty vessel underneath. 

Gather the edges of the cloth & squeeze it tight to extract more buttermilk. We are left with a ball of butter tied into the cloth. The tighter you squeeze, the better. So we now have Butter & Buttermilk. 

Butter is predominantly milk fat, with some residual milk solids (it's impossible to squeeze all the buttermilk out). Buttermilk is the residual milk with negligible fat content.

Now we continue on to the making of ghee and paneer. 

II The making of Ghee: Also called clarified butter, butter oil (not exactly, but close). 
Place the butter on medium-low heat in a thick bottomed vessel. It melts into a white opaque liquid and starts simmering. Stir it once in a while to check how it is doing. We want it to cook until all the water evaporates, it turns a golden-yellow, you will notice some browned milk solids at the bottom and the ghee gives off a nutty flavour while froth/bubbles boil up. Took me around 10 minutes. Some cooks advise adding a teaspoon of yogurt to the simmering butter as it imparts a distinct aroma/flavour.

Switch off the heat and let it cool. Pour the ghee into a glass container and store in a cool dark place. 

The browned milk solids that stayed at the bottom of the vessel are fried residual milk solids, called 'Gasi' in Telugu.This fried milk protein is a tasty treat consumed with sugar/honey. 

III The making of Paneer
Set the buttermilk on heat. When it comes to a boil, squeeze in a lemon, or drop in a teaspoon of vinegar. We want an acid to curdle the buttermilk. 
You will notice the milk curdle instantly where the acid is dropped in. 

Continue boiling it while stirring, more curds form and the fluid turns translucent. 
This fluid is Whey water. 
Sieve the curdled milk in the muslin cloth we used earlier or use a metal mesh sieve. This cheese is Paneer, a milk protein. Wash it under cold running water to get rid of the lemon/vinegar. 
The harder you squeeze the paneer, the more whey water we extract & press the paneer into a solid shape. I leave mine crumbly & use it in paneer bhurji.

IV Whey water
Whey water is the last by-product that is left over, it is the fluid left after the following are extracted from cream:
- Milk fat (Butter turned into ghee)
- Milk protein (Paneer)
Whey water is rich in calcium & other trace minerals, water soluble vitamins (especially B). 
It will taste funny since the lemon/vinegar run into it. Don't mind the taste, focus on the nutrition & gulp it down ;) I used apple cider vinegar to curdle the milk, as I thought that might taste better than white vinegar :D 
If you do hate drinking it, please water the plants with it, it's too precious to waste. Or perhaps we might come up with some delicious recipe to make this whey water more palatable!

I find it amazing that one product: Milk: gave us so many by-products! 
I love my homemade butter, ghee, paneer, whey water, kind of makes me feel one with nature, proud to consume food that is fresh processed with love at home. 
Of course, the childhood memories of Tittu doing this.And the thought of Summu consuming fresh homemade ghee, really energizes me!
If you feel lazy about all this (trust me, it's very exciting, the only hard part is the churning of cream, which is very easy if you have a food processor), just set the thawed cream on slow boil & keep stirring until all moisture evaporates. You will be left with ghee (milk fat) and a lot of browned milk solids (Gasi in Telugu) since all the paneer we failed to extract would have also gotten fried into Gasi. This way, there's no butter, buttermilk, paneer, whey water to deal with. But you end up needing to cook & stir the cream for very long until it turns to ghee & lots of yucky Gasi (a huge box of Gasi is a boring pain to eat). It took me much longer to organize this post, than it took me to make three bottles of ghee & all other by-products! 

Sad Trivia
In Jersey City, I could never locate a fresh milk farm nearby, was stuck consuming homogenized pasteurized carton milk. Missed making ghee at home. 
In Nairobi, I have fresh milk delivered every morning but I miss my Cuisinart food processor, it's a pain to manually churn the cream with Summu drinking my blood all the time  :) 
Some people melt store-bought butter to make ghee. I don't know how wise it is to consume the annatto (gives commercial packaged butter that yellow colour) that finds its way into such ghee. However, I did melt organic pure butter into ghee at home once, but it didn't taste as yum as homemade ghee
Ghee is very good for health, it helps in optimal absorption of nutrients from digested food in our alimentary canal. It has great importance in Vedic culture and Hindu rituals. Many cultures across the world have their own versions of ghee: Ethiopian niter kibbeh, Moroccon Smen to name a few.
This recipe is dedicated to Sumukh, without whose continuous help, I would have posted this ages ago (This sentiment is copied from P.G.Wodehouse, apparently he had a daughter like my son.). The real thanks go to papa for having babysat Summu while I typed this out!


  1. wow great work on this post!

  2. Thanks dear, it was my dream to write it all out, and I didn't even get into the culture behind ghee consumption, be use it would have turned into a PhD thesis manual :D however, like I said, it's not difficult to make

  3. OMG Vineeta this is such a LOVELY post!, came back to this blog after years :) Keep going, thank you for keeping it alive, do post a lot of Kenyan recipes that we have exhausted Telugu braahmala vanTa...

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  5. Thank you for showing the whole process in making of ghee butter and in turn not wastin the whey n the buttermilk got from malai which is turned into paneer. i was unaware that v cn make paneer from the milk got aftr malai is made into paneer v used to throw tht water bfr so glad to know this thank you once again

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  8. I really liked your recipe butter, Ghee, & paneer its very tasty and we as a family enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing this recipe with us. I recommend it for everyone to try once its a very amazing. Milk Powder

  9. Its very tasty and delicious and looks absolutely stunning. Thank you for wonderful buutr ghee paneer recipe We cooked you your recipe at home and it came out so fantastic. Thank you for sharing such a lovely recipe, i recommend everyone should try your recipe once.

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