Butter, which has been around for thousands of years, is rumored to have been a product of an accident. This happy accident came from when merchants carrying milk in wineskins accidentally churned the milk into butter after traveling long distances due to the bumpy and shaky movements by pack animals which agitated the milk into butter. Since this discovery, butter has been used as a spread and as fat used for many different cooking methods and preparations. Butter in itself has a very mild taste, but as a cooking fat, it is the perfect vessel to transport other flavors and this is why every dish benefits from the addition of a bit of butter.
- Julia Child once said, “With enough butter, anything is good.” And we agree.
- Since the 17th century, butter has been considered indispensable in French cuisine.
- While today’s butter is mainly made from cow’s milk, the first butter was said to be made out of sheep and goats’ milk.
- Butter changes consistency depending on temperature. Refrigerated, it is solid. At room temperature, it’s spreadable. In warm/hot temperatures, it melts back to its liquid state.
- Butter is one of the most complex dietary fats with almost 400 different kinds of fatty acids present.
- Margarine was invented in 1869 when Napoleon offered a reward for the creation of a butter substitute that would be stable in different conditions.
- Movie popcorn butter isn’t really butter but a blend of chemicals that just resembles the flavor of butter.
Butter Buying Guide
For those that didn’t know, there’s more to butter than salted and unsalted and all of them taste great! Here are the different types of butter and how they’re usually utilized in the culinary world.
- Salted Butter – This is the most common type of butter that you can find on store shelves. Commercial butter contains 80 percent butterfat and is made from pasteurized milk with a little bit of salt added at the end of the process to heighten its flavor and extend storage time. This is best on toast, waffles, pancakes, sweet corn, and any other dish that needs a touch of saltiness and richness added to it.
- Unsalted Butter – This is much like the salted butter variety except that this… you guessed it, doesn’t contain salt. This is best used for baking applications and for making sauces where it is important to control the level of saltiness. For recipes that need a certain amount of salt, it is best to use unsalted butter as the amount of salt in the salted butter cannot be exactly determined.
- Cultured Butter – Originally, butter was made from the cream that was skimmed from their fresh milk and it usually took a couple of days before they had enough cream to make a batch of butter. This waiting period often led the cream to start to ferment, giving it a stronger buttery and cheesy taste. Since volume is no longer an issue with modern production methods, a bacterial starter culture is usually added to the cream to jump-start the fermentation instead of waiting for the cream to ferment naturally. For those who want a more intense buttery taste in their dishes, then this is the butter for you. As with regular butter, this can come in both salted and unsalted forms.
- Clarified Butter – This is also known as ghee, and due to its rising popularity, we’ve dedicated a whole entry here in the Promptuary for it, so be sure to check it out. In a nutshell, clarified butter is made by rendering the butter and the milk solids are removed, leaving a much higher or purer concentration of butterfat. Because of this, clarified butter has a higher smoke point than regular butter and is usually used for high heat applications in many Asian and Indian cuisines.
- European Butter – European butter usually has protected geographical designations (think Champagne or other locations), these are usually manufactured to very strict European standards. A quick note though, European butter is usually fermented so most European butter will have very buttery flavors.
- Homemade / Artisan butter – These are butter that you make are home and or are made in small batches by local dairy farmers with fresh milk. Once you’ve tried freshly made butter, it is very difficult to go back to the store-bought / commercially produced butter ever again.
Butter Grades – Aside from the different types of butter, it also comes in different grades that serve as a classification on their overall quality. The higher the grade of the butter, the fewer defects in color, flavor, and texture are present.
- Grade AA – This is the highest grade that any butter can be given. The butter must get a score of at least 93 out of a maximum of 100 points. This butter is made from sweet cream and has an inherent sweetness, easily spreadable, and has a very smooth and pleasing texture.
- Grade A – This is made from fresh cream and must have a score of at least 92 out of a hundred. This grade of butter also has a coarser texture than that of the higher-grade butter. This grade is oftentimes almost indistinguishable from grade AA in many applications.
- Grade B – This butter has a slightly acidic flavor profile and is usually used in bulk processes and commercial food production applications. This is the lowest grade of butter commercially available to consumers and it must score at least a 90 out of 100 on the grading scale.
Butter Production & Farming in Texas
Many small farmsteads in Texas produce their own milk, it’s not uncommon to find artisan butter in many farmers’ markets and specialty bakeries. Butter made in these small farmsteads is as fresh butter can be and will taste worlds apart from butter that has been standing for weeks in cold storage or in supermarket shelves.
Another good thing about having many local producers is the ability to purchase butter that is made from raw milk. Raw milk butter is banned by the FDA for transport across state lines so the only way to get raw milk butter is to purchase them from local producers.
In Texas, it isn’t uncommon to find goat butter due to the number of farmsteads that raise goats and produce goat milk. Goat butter has been considered as a gourmet butter alternative to regular cow’s milk butter.
Preservatives, Additives, and Chemicals:
Butter in itself doesn’t require any preservatives and additives so you won’t have to worry about any chemicals and preservatives in your butter.
The only thing that you have to consider when buying butter is its freshness. Commercially produced butter can be months old once it gets to you as opposed to buying local artisan butter that is at maximum a few days old. Some will say that fresh butter is always best, and we wholeheartedly agree with them.
Butter comes in two forms. Bars and in tubs. Bars are packed in wax-lined paper wraps, while butter in tubs is packed in plastic tubs. Butter is also packed in single-serve slices; these are packed in small plastic containers with a foil-lined film seal to protect the contents.
I repeat. Everything is better with butter. Since butter is an excellent vehicle of flavors, any dish that butter is added to will have its taste amplified. While butter has countless applications, we’ve prepared a list of our favorite applications so you can see just how versatile this dairy product is.
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich – Butter belongs on the inside AND outside of a grilled cheese sandwich. Inside, the butter will enhance the taste of the cheese. On the outside, slathering butter on the surface of the bread will give it a crispy and golden exterior when grilled.
- Corn on a cob – A pat of butter and a pinch of salt on your corn will take your corn eating experience to a whole new level.
- Lemon-Butter Dip – Just melt some butter with the juice of a lemon and you’ll have the perfect dip for seafood.
Since butter is made from milk, it should be stored in the fridge to prevent it from becoming rancid or from spoiling.
Heavily salted butter and ghee can be stored at room temperature for up to a week, but to be completely safe, storing it in the fridge is recommended.
Since butter is mostly fat, it can be stored in the freezer, just make sure to wrap it tightly to avoid the surface from oxidizing. To thaw out frozen butter, just leave at room temperature for a few minutes and it should be back to normal in no time.
Make your own compound butter:
One of our favorite things to do with butter is to make it better. This compound butter is the perfect addition to steak and seafood dishes, and the best thing is that it’s very easy to make and can be tweaked to your taste!
Softened butter, 1 stick
Lemon juice, 1 ½ teaspoons
Salt, ½ teaspoon
Minced Garlic, 1 clove
Chopped fresh parsley, 3 tablespoons
Fresh chopped herbs, 1 ½ tablespoons (basil, oregano, rosemary, or your herb of choice or any combination you want)
Freshly ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix until incorporated, mix with a cool spoon, and by hand as not to warm the butter to its liquid state.
On a piece of cling film, form butter compound into a log and twist ends to seal tightly.
Refrigerate for at least one hour and slice into “coins” or disks, serve on savory dishes, or on bread.
Note: This compound butter can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. While butter lasts longer, it has fresh herbs and the taste may degrade if stored in the fridge for extended periods. For longer-term storage, store in the freezer for up to six months.