Whether you spread it on pancakes, homemade bread, a dinner roll, or a muffin, it's difficult to top the taste of fresh homemade butter.

Making your own butter is simple. It really is, as they say, so simple a child can do it. It's one of those quintessential science activities teachers like to do in the classroom. All you need is a carton of heavy cream, a glass jar, and a little elbow grease.

rustic bread and herbal butter

What you will need:

A glass jar with a lid.

Heavy cream (35% whipping cream). When making butter, you'll get about half as much butter as the amount of cream used. One quart will yield 1 pound butter plus about 2 cups buttermilk.

2 or 3 glass marbles for the jar (optional). Some people say this speeds up the process. If you’re using a glass jar, be sure to use one with thick, tempered glass such as a Mason jar.

cubes of butter

Three steps to make butter

Step 1: Fill the jar halfway with cream. Drop in the marbles, if you’ve chosen to use them.

Step 2: Put the lid on tightly and shake well until the liquid thickens and stops making a sloshing sound. Open the jar and check the contents. Put the lid back on and shake the jar for about a minute more or until the butter is a solid mass.

Pour off the buttermilk and remove the butter. You can save the buttermilk to use in baking.

buttermilk in mason jar

Step 3: To complete the process, rinse the butter under cold water, kneading it slightly while rinsing. This will remove the last of the buttermilk and prevent the butter from going rancid too quickly. Add a pinch of salt, if desired. You can also make flavored butter by adding a little citrus zest, finely chopped thyme or basil.

You cannot make butter from the pasteurized milk you may have on hand, but you can make it from fresh, unpasteurized milk (raw milk). This is a somewhat lengthy process because the raw milk needs to sit out overnight.

Butter can also be made from the milk of other mammals, including sheep, goats, buffalo, and yaks (there are at least 7,000 being raised in North America from Alberta, Canada to here in Tennessee).

An easier way

Making butter in a jar requires a lot of shaking. If you’re not up for that task or if you want to make butter more quickly, there are a couple of ways to do that. Using a butter shaker or churn like the one shown below is much less laborious and faster. You can also use a blender.

Because it has no preservatives, homemade butter does not keep for long. It will spoil very quickly if left at room temperature but keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days. It can also be frozen. If desired, you can flavor the butter with cinnamon sugar or some finely minced herbs such as flat-leaf parsley, chives, or tarragon.

Butter has none of the artificial trans fats associated with the "bad" cholesterol in margarine. If it's made from grass-fed cows milk, it will also contain healthy fatty acids.

butter churm with cream inside