Let’s face it. We all love butter. However, not all butters are created equal! The sourcing of the cream and the subsequent treatment of that cream make for some very different finished products. Here is some basic information on butter to help you learn more about this incredible food, and select the right butter - whether you’re planning to cook with it, or simply eat it with a slice of delicious fresh bread!
Cultured butter is made from cream that has live cultures added to it. It’s a style that was more popular in Europe and less easy to find in the United States until recently when companies like Ploughgate Creamery started making their own domestic versions. Once the cream has been cultured for the right amount of time (which differs from producer to producer) the thickened cultured cream is churned into butter. Cultured butter is tangy and has a more lactic quality of flavor overall.
Cultured butter can also sometimes have a slightly ‘cheesy’ flavor profile. This is not desirable to some butter lovers, but some people do enjoy that more intense flavor. If cultured butter tastes cheesy it usually means that either the fat globules in the cream were slightly damaged before it was churned, or the butter has been aged for a while (intentionally or unintentionally!)
Sweet Cream Butter
Sweet Cream butter is made from fresh, sweet cream that has not been cultured. This style of butter is the standard for most American butter makers. The cream for sweet cream butter is churned quickly after it is produced, resulting in a mild, sweet butter. Our favorite Sweet Cream butter comes from Cowbella Creamery, a seventh generation dairy located in Deansboro, NY.
Salt or No Salt?
Some butter is salted and some is unsalted. People have different preferences, and sometimes use different butter for different occasions. For example, most bakers use unsalted butter so that they can control the amount of salt in their finished product. Some people prefer salted butter to eat with bread, while others like unsalted best, and might add a pinch of their own favorite salt on top. The salt used in butter making varies. Most supermarket varieties will have a standard salt, but some specialty butters use sea salt of varying color, flake size, and intensity.
The Skinny on Butterfat
Most commercial butters contain about 80% butterfat. If a product contains less than 80% butterfat it cannot be called butter - most are marketed as spreads. The butter that we source at Saxelby Cheesemongers has upwards of 85% butterfat. There's an old adage that says 'Fat is flavor', and we couldn't agree more! The higher in butterfat a butter is, the richer and more delicious it will be.
Higher amounts of butterfat also affect the texture of butter. Butters with more butterfat will be richer and more smooth and spreadable. The texture of seasonal butter from small grass-fed dairies will change throughout the year as the animals' diet changes. In the summertime, the butter will be slightly softer at room temperature because the quality of the saturated fat changes when the cows are eating lush, green pasture. In the wintertime the butter will be slightly firmer at room temperature due to the fact that the cows are eating dry hay and grain.
The color of butter varies according to the the breed of cow and the animals' diet. Jersey cows are a breed renowned for their butterfat production, and their milk and cream tends to have a brighter yellow color to it than other breeds. In the summer when the cows are on pasture, the butter turns a golden, sunshine-yellow hue that is truly remarkable!
Butter is mostly fat, but it also contains nutrients that are essential for health like vitamins A and E, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and phosphorous. Vitamins A and E are both fat soluble, meaning your body needs the fat in order to metabolize those nutrients!
Grass fed butter is higher in healthier unsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids which contribute positively to heart, brain, eye, and lung health, and may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Grass fed butter and cheese also contains lots of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which studies have shown to be useful in promoting fat loss, and have positive effects on cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammation, and immune response.