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Discover the fascinating process of how butter is made, a culinary staple with a rich history. The journey from cream to butter involves agitating the cream until its fat globules coalesce, transforming into a solid mass known as butter. Contrary to outdated dietary advice, moderate consumption of butter can be part of a healthy diet. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that butter contains short-chain fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, which may have positive effects on cholesterol levels and metabolism. While moderation is key, as excessive intake can lead to health issues, butter in its purest form, free from additives, offers a blend of beneficial fats that contribute to a balanced diet.
There are two types of butter: traditionally made, which uses soured milk, and fresh. Traditional forms are sometimes labeled as “European Butter” in stores, and you may have noticed that it has a rich, slightly sour, intense flavor. Butter made with fresh cream is much more mild. It also comes in salted and unsalted formats. Traditionally, butter was heavily salted to keep it from going rancid. It is more lightly salted today that it was historically, so that the salty flavor does not dominate. Unsalted is also available for certain cooking applications.
When butter is made traditionally in a dairy, vats of milk are set out after milking in a cool place so that the cream can rise to the top. The top of the milk is skimmed, and the cream is collected in a large container for up to a week, so that a large batch can be made. The cream is also allowed to sour slightly, forming acids which help to break down the fat in the cream. Next, the cream is poured into a churn to be beaten. In an upright churn, a paddle is pounded back and forth. Other churns use a rotating motion. Either way, constant speed has to be kept up as the butter forms, leaving watery buttermilk behind.
The buttermilk is poured off, and the butter is worked with cold water to remove the last of the buttermilk. Next, it is salted and packaged for sale. Modern butters made in this style are usually made with milk which has been cultured with yogurt, so that the final product has a dependably tangy flavor. This also reduces the risk of food borne illness which is increased by leaving dairy products out at room temperature to sour. However, many dairies choose not to culture their cream, and instead simply whip fresh cream at a high speed.
Making butter at home is easy to do, and it can be a fun activity. Start with high quality fresh cream that has no additives. Some consumers choose raw cream which has not been pasteurized, as they feel it performs better. Put the cream into a mixer and run it at high speed until the buttermilk separates out. Pour the milk off and work the butter with cold water to wash it, before adding salt or flavorings of your choice.
You can also make butter by shaking cream in a jar, if you have the patience; it can take up to an hour, and you need to be conscientious about keeping the cream cold. The buttermilk can be used in cooking or drunk plain, and it has an interesting flavor which many people enjoy. For a more soured flavor, add cultured buttermilk from the store to the cream and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight before beating.