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Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh cream. It consists of an emulsion of water and milk proteins in a matrix of fat, with over 80% being fat. It is used as a condiment and for cooking in much the same ways as vegetable oils or lard.
It is solid but soft at room temperature, and melts easily. Its color is generally pale yellow, but can vary from deep yellow to nearly white depending largely on what type of food the animals were eating. (Butter is typically paler in the winter, for example, when dairy cattle feed on stored hay rather than fresh grass).
It is easy to make your own butter in small batches and often worthwhile when serving butter on the table, such as with fresh bread. Take a small clean jar with a tight-fitting lid, and pour in heavy cream or whipping cream, no more than one third full. Shake the jar until you can feel or hear that a solid mass has formed. If the cream becomes too thick to shake easily, add a bit of water. Pour off the liquid and use a spatula or spoon to collect the butter. This soft whipped butter can be served on its own, or mixed with herbs or spices. You can also add flavor by pouring a small measure of flavored liquor in with the cream.
In Australia both salted and unsalted butter are readily available, and no preservatives, additives or colorings are allowed in standard butter unless they are labeled as a 'spread'.
European butter typically contains 82% to 84% butterfat and comes in salted and unsalted varieties. The greater portion of butterfat makes European butter taste richer than American butter.
Butter sold in United States markets is typically 80% to 82% butterfat and salted, unless marked otherwise. Flavorings, colorings, and preservatives may also be added. European style butter, at 82% or greater fat content, is referred to as "dry butter", and is available in specialty shops. Salted butter is generally sold in sticks wrapped in wax paper, while unsalted butter is sometimes wrapped in aluminum foil.
Most often used as ghee, or clarified butter.
Victorian manner of preparation
- Cow's milk
- After washing one's hands and fingernails, scald all utensils that are to be used in making butter, including the wooden churn (wooden pats and spoons should be left in bowl of scalding hot water and covered over with a clean cloth)
- Take fresh cow's milk and let it settle in pans overnight.
- The cream rises to the top. It is scraped off and poured into the churn (preferable to pour the cream at a height so that the cream aerates, allowing it to turn quicker).
- Begin churning process (If a Victorian barrel butter churn is used, rotate the handle continuously, which propels the paddles; if a plunge churn is used, continuously move up-and-down the dasher-staff). Important to maintain a measured and steady pace.
- The churning process takes between 30 minutes to one hour, depending upon the weather.
- The cream soon turns into whipped cream (being the first stage). After continued churning for 30–35 minutes more, the whipped cream begins to turn, becoming thicker and harder to churn, and slightly powdery so that it starts to separate. This is the second stage. The turned butter at this stage is quite pungent to smell.
- With continued churning, one reaches the third stage, when buttermilk and butter begin to separate. This can be recognized by the distinct sound which the churning action makes, besides being harder to churn.
- Drain the buttermilk into a separate pail by using a meshed cloth strainer.
- Remove the paddle from the Victorian barrel butter churn, and scoop out all of the butter.
- Wrap up butter in a clean cloth, tie it and squeeze out all excess liquid.
- Open the wrapping and wash the butter in spring water and allow it to drain (washing in spring water prevents butter from becoming rancid)
- Let the butter sit for at least 1-hour, allowing all water to drain off.
- Take out butter and divide it into smatter portions. Begin to pat it with wooden butter pats (which were scalded earlier). Patting the butter is done to get rid of any excess liquid.
- This is the stage that salt is added to the batch of butter, as also any other flavoring herbs (such as thyme or parsley, etc.) which is sparingly worked into the butter by using the butter pats.