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Butter 101- Part One

I have promised unravel this mystery for some time, so today seems as good as any. First let's get the bascis out of the way.

What is butter?
Answer: It is the resulting butterfat, proteins and trace minerals which are churned out of fresh or fermented milk.

Why is butter salted?
Answer: Butter is commonly salted to extend it's shelf life and to add a salty flavor to the butter which enhances the overall flavor.

What is the difference between "European" butter and normal sweet butter?
Answer: "European" style butter and for that matter most European butters have a higher butterfat content. It ranges between 82-86% versus "sweet cream" butter which is at least 80% and can be as high as 82%.

In addition, most European butters have been "cultured", which means a live bacterial culture is introduced into the cream to assist in ripening the cream and it is then aged for a period of time, anywhere from a few hours up to 36 hours. This time has a huge effect on the final product. Finally, the churning process has a definite effect on the final result and slow churning gives a better and creamier texture.

What is "sweet" butter?
Answer: This is a meaningless marketing term and it is simply non cultured everyday butter, which often has annatto or beta carotene added to adjust the color, and sometimes preservatives etc. Not good.

What gives gives different butters their distinctive taste?
Answer: Butter is based upon cream and cream normally comes from cows, so butter will reveal the diet, trace minerals and lifestyle of the cows. 

In addition, certain ingredients which are naturally occurring in the grass and flowers impart unique flavor, chiefly amongst these is beta carotene. However, of all of the things that influence the taste, it seems to be that grass fed is better than grain fed. In other words, free range cows.

Can butter be made from animals other than cows?
Answer: Yes, butter can be made from most mammals, however commonly you see mainly cows milk and goat's milk being used.

Is organic better than non organic?
Answer: This is sticky question for some, but I have a fairly basic answer, organic is always better for anything. If cows eat mainly grass and the grass has chemicals on it, it is going to end up in your butter. More concerning is the fact that butter is a concentrated product, so there is the possibility that the chemicals themselves will be concentrated in the butter. If you can raise crops or animals without pesticides, added chemicals and antibiotics, how can this not be better for the environment, the animals, you and the planet?

Doesn't all butter basically taste the same?
Answer: No. Butter can be very distinctive and butter from France can taste completely different from butter from Italy or the US or New Zealand etc. Again, it is a matter of personal taste. Some may like the flavor of a certain butter while others may find it too strong, or too grassy or ripe.

Which is the best butter for cooking and baking? 
Answer: In general, a higher butterfat butter will give superior results when baking or finishing sauces etc. I have not seen a major difference in performance when something is going to be sautéed for a long period of time. It's really about what texture do you want and what taste do you want?


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