I recently stumbled upon a 2-pound log of butter made by the Amish. It’s the type of purchase I am ecstatic about, but at the same time mildly ashamed of telling people about. I’m a sucker for local products and anything artisanal. So for $8 bucks, I was the proud recipient of a block of Amish butter. I whipped up some toast and slathered it on... Amazing? Yes. Life Changing? Yes. In some regards I feel mildly robbed. I just think of all the years I’ve wasted eating shitty butter.
In my house growing up, olive oil trumped butter and it’s no surprise why. The Land O’ Lakes and Great Value we’d all been eating was a mere shadow of what its nutty buttery goodness should be. Over the past few months I have been wandering down the rabbit hole of butter and as you might imagine, it is quite the culinary badass.
History. Butter has a rich history, pun intended. The oldest reference of butter has been found on a sandstone dated over 4,500 years old. While this is coming from a site dedicated to the Canadian Dairy Industry, I cannot find any reference to this butter art anywhere. Regardless, recently in 2009 a 70-pound case of butter was unearthed in Ireland that dated back 3,000 years. It’s safe to say butter has been around. Most historians attribute the original practice of butter churning to the Arabs and Greeks and ancient butter churning is pretty awesome.
Ancient Butter Churning 101.
1. Find yourself a goat
2. Slaughter your goat
3. Take great care in skinning in while breaking down the animal
4. After butchering, take your goat skin and sew it back up. You’ll be looking to make what I like to call a “goat bag.” The only part of said goat that was left open was the left foreleg. Why, you may ask? I have no idea.
5. Open your goat leg, pour in cream and tie up the “goat bag.”
6. String up that milky goat to some tent poles and swing that bad boy around until you have some butter. Now, that’s a party! However, this has left me with some serious questions..
When you swing your goat from tent poles does it resemble a pig on a spit or are we talking goat tether ball?
How does one extract the butter from the goat bag? Playdoh style out the same left leg it came in on or do you split the skin open and make a giant butter ball?
I mean really, how many people does it take to swing a goat filled with heaps of cream? Is it wrong to assume a shit ton? How did people not get sick? While this description of butter churning leaves me with more questions than answers, that last question has got to come down to if your butter is cultured. No im not talking about bougie butter, but bacterial butter.
Cultured vs. Sweet Cream. Cultured butter is traditionally only found in Europe today, although Vermont and New York are experiencing a small market of creameries embracing the method. Cultured butter is created when cream is cultured by adding live bacteria before churning. If you know anything about yogurt, it’s a similar process. Bacteria is added to milk. The bacteria hangs out, eats sugar and poops acid. Gross and awesome? Yes. But above and beyond being super tasty, cultured butter means you’re getting happy gut probiotics
Still wondering about that sexy sounding sweet cream butter? Let me walk you through it. Sweet cream butter is produced by putting fresh milk into a centrifuge. It is then pasteurized by heating milk to kill bacteria and help the butter stay fresh longer. Next the cream is separated off and beaten in a churning cylinder until it thickens into butter. The remaining liquid is pulled off and the solid butter is salted. Here is the quick and dirty break down:
Pros: Not heated, Richer taste, lots of good bacteria, has higher fat content
Cons: Takes longer to make, more expensive, shorter shelf life
Pros: Cheaper, longer shelf life
Cons: Tasteless, lower fat content
If you’re Butter, you want to be fat. It’s true. If you have ever worked in a professional kitchen you will notice European butter and how it is prized for its higher fat content. In the US, butter fat content is regulated to 80% or higher; with the standard sweet cream ringing in at 80 % fat, 16% water, and 3% solids. Conversely, European standards mandate a minimum 82% and many as high as the maximum 86% fat. Higher fat content means less moisture and results in a higher smoke point when searing. Also if you’re baking, higher fat yields a more tender crumb/crust and is superior in taste. While I’m officially done arguing the merits of fat, I’d love to talk greens, grass in particular.
Eat Grass. Don't Smoke It. If you have ever unwrapped fresh butter and like me wondered what had gone wrong, chances are you’re eating butter from a grass fed cow. While this is a rarity today, the color of the butter will be most vibrant and almost alarming if you are used to seeing nearly white butter. I was curious to know how grass fed butter sized up to standard butter. Multiple studies have verified grass fed cow’s milk is significantly higher in fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. It’s also much higher in conjugated linoleic acid, a healthy immune booster. I’m not here to say grass fed cow butter is a cure all, but if you’re going to eat fat you might as well get some nutrition packed in there.
In the northeast there are various outlets to obtain cultured grass fed butter. Wegmans now has an entire specialty butter section that can be found next to the imported cheese section, separate from the traditional butters. Whole foods and trader Joes are now carrying some great options as well. While the following list is in no way comprehensive or 100% percent grass fed, these are some serious butters.
Most Accessible: Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter (Salted)
I believe this is available in most places and is a solid foray into the cultured butter world. It is mildly yellow, salty, nutty and a bit softer than the rest. So it is super spreadable for those mornings when you only want tea and toast. If your feeling like a die hard, only 96% of the cows diet is grass, though how they come up with such percentages has me lost.
Chefs Choice: Plugra European Salted Butter
While this has a lower fat content at 82% it’s the brand I hear about most in kitchens. Similar to Kerrygold, it a good option and price point for those new to the European style. However, Plugra is not as nutty or robust in flavor.
Bougieist Butter: Beurre d’Echire (sel)
If this butter was readily available, I’d be the #1 brand fan.
1. It comes in a very French basket
2. Its 84% butter fat
3. It’s F&*king Delicious.
If butter could change your life, this would be the guy to do it. I think I just put on a striped shirt, baret, and grabbed a freaking baguette so I can drown it in this basket of butter. Echire Butter is so banging the New York Times just did a special on them...Yep, you heard me right; the New York Times did an article on a Butter manufacture. You may read it here.
Californian Butter: Clover Organic Farms Salted Butter
While everyone and their mother has been about this butter, I’m underwhelmed. The quality is bar none and the farm is fantastic, but the taste is B+. If you are spending 2-3 times that of traditional butter, I want to be wooed. I know Clover does good things but the best I can muster is a very John Oliver-esk....”Cool.
While butter may seem like a lowly ingredient in your kitchen, next time you’re at your grocer; give the butter isle a second glance. In life’s hustle the simple pleasures are often over looked. Grab your self the bougieist bread and a cultured butter you can get your hands on and enjoy the good life.