Last month I started my article saying that I wanted to write about butter, but I didn’t even reach butter, because there’s so much about milk which is used to make cream, which is used to make butter. Butter comes in many forms for both the commercial kitchens as well as home kitchens. Some of the variables are salted versus unsalted and the sizes of containers that are available including a 30 pound block, 1 pound block and 4 oz sticks or butter pats.
There are also many variables that change the flavor and color of butter. Some of the differences will change the flavor, color, consistency, saltiness, sweetness and acidity of the butter. Most of those variables will be based on the beta-carotene in the diet of the cow as well as other environmental factors. One great example of that is Irish butter, which has a very different color than any other butter based on the amount of rain that is received, creating more beta-carotene where the cows graze in Ireland.
When salted butter was first created in 1850, they used 8 ounces of salt for every 10 pounds of butter, but now the standard is 5 ounces, which helps create longevity in the storage of butter. The reason that salt was introduced into butter was to help preserve it for the wintertime when farmers weren’t able to produce as much milk. In the late 1800s they would soak the butter in pickle brine but usually that created too much salt so it had to be desalted before using.
One of the earliest conflicts around butter happened in 1766 at Harvard University. The students protested the food that they were getting was not of good quality. This was a decade before the American Revolution and the economics of our country weren’t in such good shape, so the acquisition of fresh food was difficult. The administrators of Harvard did finally admit they were serving rancid butter. Margarine came about in 1869 in France when Napoleon was worried about the amount of supplies in preparation for going to war with Prussia, so they had to find an alternate for fat. In 2005 the United States produced 1.35 billion pounds of butter in a year and that went up to 1.89 billion in the year 2018.
Another big variable in butter is the difference between European butter and butter produced in the United States. In Europe they have laws called Protected Designation of Origin, PDO’s, which controls the content and growth places for certain products. The European butter is required to be made up of at least 82% butterfat, but some of them are up to 85%, as compared to what is produced in the United States which has to be 80% butterfat. This may not seem like a big difference but the mouthfeel of the European butter has a marketable difference. Be aware of American made “European Style” butter because it does not have the laws that make sure that it’s the right fat content.
Butter is made by taking heavy cream or whipping cream and overmixing it; the liquid that separates from it is what we buy as buttermilk. The truth is, buttermilk now is mostly made by souring milk rather than from this method because we use more buttermilk than is produced from the butter. General rule for what kind of butter to use is if the recipe is from Europe use European butter because that’s how the recipe was formulated. If the recipe is an American recipe no need to spend the extra money for the European butter because the recipe was designed using American butter. The article that started me thinking about butter claimed in a tasting the two aluminum foil-wrapped butters were the winners as compared to the parchment paper-wrapped butters.
Cheese is another product made from milk. There are many theories on how milk was turned into cheese the first time; the most common story is that nomads were carrying milk in bags made from the stomach lining of cows, which have an enzyme called rennet, and the agitation from traveling made the milk coagulate into curds. The curds are than pressed and 85% of the liquid, called whey, is removed. The whey is usually used for feeding livestock, but it can also be used in food for humans. Cheese in the United States needs to come from either pasteurized milk, or if it’s from unpasteurized milk, also called Raw Milk, can only be sold after being aged for 60 days.
The oddest thing I learned was that canned butter is produced, but is mostly sent to places like Alaska because of the extended shelf life.