butter

Betty Bought a Better Butter

As promised, this is the second installment of my butter researches, inspired by Elaine Khosrova's fun microhistory Butter: a Rich History.

 

Some varieties I found at the store

Some varieties I found at the store

For starters, while no one needs to be told that butter tastes wonderful, we were told it was a nutritional no-no for so long that it's worth reviewing where butter is a nutritional yes-yes. Especially pastured butter, where cows' milk has benefited from all the goodies grass contains.

  • Butter is chock-full of fat-soluble vitamins like A (vision, immune system, skin health), D, E, and K. We hear a lot in the Northwest about being Vitamin-D-deficient, given our sun's tendency to hide behind rain and clouds and our own tendency to cower in fear from the remaining sun exposure. Our resulting deficiency might lead to chronic diseases and even depression. Because we make vitamin D in response to sunshine, it's not much found in foods unless we add it back, like in milk. But vitamin D is naturally present in butter. Ditto for vitamin E.

 

  • Grass-fed butters are rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which prevents cell damage through its antioxidant powers.
  • And let's not forget vitamin K2 (not like the mountain--it's just that SquareSpace won't let me do subscripts). K2 promotes "healthy skin, forming strong bones, preventing inflammation, supporting brain function, reversing arterial calcification (aka 'hardening of the arteries')," and even helps to prevent cancer. Yowza.

If the fancy butters are cost-prohibitive, consider saving the grass-fed butter for when you're eating it straight on toast or biscuits or vegetables, and using less exciting stuff for baking. I made biscuits this week from her book recipe, in order to showcase butter.

 

Topped with pastured butter AND homemade apricot jam

Topped with pastured butter AND homemade apricot jam

I won't bother inserting her recipe here because it was pretty standard for a biscuit, although she added the trick of folding the patted-out rectangle of dough into thirds, patting out into a rectangle again, and folding in thirds once more. This gives you the layers of flaky biscuit you would find in a storebought canned biscuit. Pretty and delightful! She also substituted some cake flour for all-purpose flour, to increase lightness, but I thwarted this by substituting some whole-wheat pastry flour for all-purpose (because, really, otherwise you might as well make cupcakes).

If you don't pick up Khosrova's book, here are some of her recommended butters which I've seen in our local stores. To this list, of course, we can add our farmers' butters, when the Market starts up again next month!

Recommended Butters

Clover Organic Farms Unsalted Butter & Farmstead Organic European-Style Butter with Sea Salt (California)

Organic Valley Salted Butter& Pasture Butter, Salted (Wisconsin)

Cabot Creamery Unsalted Butter & 83 Unsalted Butter (Vermont)

Challenge Butter (California)

Kerrygold Pure Irish Salted Butter (Ireland)

Land O'Lakes Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter & European Style Super Premium Unsalted Butter (Minnesota)

Lurpak Salted Butter (Denmark)

Plugra European Style Unsalted Butter (Missouri)

Straus Family Creamery European-Style Organic Salted Butter (California

Tillamook Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter (Oregon)

We like salted butter, ourselves, even if the recipe calls for unsalted. And do note that not all the butters listed above are pastured, if that matters to you. Read the labels and have at it!

Like Buttah

Butter has made a comeback. Once we all got over our mistaken fear of fats (search my past posts on www.urbanfarmjunkie.blogspot.com if you didn't get the memo), there didn't seem any earthly reason to eat margarine ever again, unless it was for the original reason--that margarine is cheaper than butter. Back in the day when oleomargarine was made from beef tallow, milk, and annato-seed coloring, it gave industrial butter of uneven quality a run for its money, but those days are long gone. Even the most blah supermarket butter nowadays beats margarine hands-down.

In fact, attacks on butter in our time now come from the environmental direction. Check out this graphic Michael Pollan retweeted this morning:

 

Yep. Butter has been lumped in, so to speak, with environment-killing beef. We live in sad times. Omnivores like myself either have to (1) go vegan; (2) cut back; or (3) be richer. Out of the three options, I've chosen (2) and (3). Our family eats beef 1-2 times per week, and we fork over more money for pastured beef and milk and butter.  This week I picked up Elaine Khosrova's delightful microhistory  Butter: a Rich History .   

Yep. Butter has been lumped in, so to speak, with environment-killing beef. We live in sad times. Omnivores like myself either have to (1) go vegan; (2) cut back; or (3) be richer. Out of the three options, I've chosen (2) and (3). Our family eats beef 1-2 times per week, and we fork over more money for pastured beef and milk and butter.

This week I picked up Elaine Khosrova's delightful microhistory Butter: a Rich History.

 

She opens with a scene in Bhutan, of a little boy following his mom up the steep mountainside to go milk the yaks. (And if the thought of yak butter makes you yak, consider that is has "less milk sugar and more protein than cow's milk." Could it be the next hot Paleo food?)It reminded me of nothing so much as Heidi, and it turns out Heidi's life and food experience had more in common with Norbu and his mom than with us, her modern, post-Industrial-Revolution counterparts. Khosrova's account of historical dairying around the world brought not only Heidi to mind, but also Laura Ingalls Wilder making butter with Ma in Little House in the Big Woods and fallen-woman Tess Durbeyfield going incognito as a dairymaid in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Butter is big in literature. I doubt margarine shares its literary pedigree.

 

Tess at work (1891 Joseph Syddall illustration)

Tess at work (1891 Joseph Syddall illustration)

Butter: a Rich History is larded with fascinating facts. Who knew that goat butter was white, because goat milk lacks carotene? Or that camel milk has three times the vitamin C as goat milk (to which it is otherwise similar), but often the butter made from camel milk contains sand and--blurgh!--camel hair? Who knew that, in the 14th century, your average cow yielded 140-170 gallons of milk per season, but today's Holstein can flood us with 2,574 gallons? Who knew that what we call cultured butter today used to be the norm, when setting milk would attract environmental bacteria as it sat for a couple days? What we eat is "sweet cream butter," a pretty modern invention that arrived after cream could be instantly separated from milk and turned to butter, no wait period required. Before refrigeration, butter had to be salted to keep it from going rancid--salted to the point that you had to rinse and repeat before serving! And butter has always had a complex history with the environment: in the "Butter Belt" of the 18th century, dairies around Philadelphia wreaked havoc by dumping their excess buttermilk in the streams and rivers.

I especially enjoyed the discussion of how dairying and buttermaking moved from a woman's domain (think Tess and Marie Antoinette frolicking and posing in her Hameau de Versailles) to a man's industrial world. Quality went down; distribution and profits went up.

While I haven't finished the book yet (look for Part II next week), I'm already eager to try some of her recommended butters listed in the appendix. One warning: "many big brands...add 'natural' flavor (diacetyl) to their butter." I'm going to check that out, too. Keep you posted.