Everyone's Favorite Ingredient

Butter. From the popcorn at the cinema, to the kitchens of five-star restaurants; this beloved dairy product is a versatile culinary staple everywhere. It boast a flavor that transcends palates across a multitude of cultures; making it a prime ingredient for a variety of tasty delicacies. It’s been enjoyed since the height of ancient Egypt and the Biblical times, when workers huddled over wooden churns to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. Even the legendary King Tut was an early adopter of the stuff. Although, historians believe that the butter back in those days was actually made from the milk of camels and water buffaloes. Some now-extinct religions even went as far as to suggest that it was a food of the divine, and that those that ate it would be protected from evil curses. The word “butter” itself is likely derived from the Greek word “boutyron”, which translates to “cow cheese”. According to historical records; the first butter churns were invented by Arabic and Syrian peoples, and consisted of a goatskin {which held the milk} hung from tentpoles, and beaten with sticks until butter formed. Clearly, things have changed drastically since then. Later came the iconic wooden vessel and churning paddle that lasted for several hundred years. Fast forward to modern day, process equipment technology provides an efficient replacement that can  supply the demands of a larger world.


How Butter Is Made

These days, gallons upon gallons of fresh cow’s milk is loaded up from dairy farms and sent off to a creamery. A creamery’s operations aren’t necessarily limited to making butter; they can whip up any number of dairy products like milk, cream, ice cream, cheese, and many more residents of the average refrigerator. Of course, the butter known and loved today contains more than simply extracted buttermilk fat. Salt is often added, as well as other ingredients and preservatives used to enhance the flavor. The first step in creating butter from the cream is placing the cream in a mammoth metal churning/mixing tank, which can be hold as much as 1,500-5,000 pounds. Similar to the rotation of a clothes dryer, the churn tumbles the cream while a creamery employee monitors the batch through a small window. It generally takes around 45 minutes for the first signs of butter to form, which eventually leads to the butter being separated from the buttermilk. Next, salt and any other ingredients are added to the butter and the churning starts up ensure an even mix. After that’s been finished; a large metal vessel informally called a boat is wheeled up to an opening on the churn, and the butter falls into the boat. The churn is activated once again to scrape away any butter that didn’t catch the hint the first time the churn door was opened. It’s then stowed away in 64-pound boxes, which will in turn be repackaged for commercial sale.

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Butter Vs. Margarine

Butter has long been associated with its estranged cousin margarine. Margarine was the indirect brainchild of French Emperor Louis Napoleon III, as he sought to provide his impoverished citizens with a more budget-friendly alternative to butter. So in that spirit, he commissioned the country’s culinary scientists to find a suitable substitute in 1869. Margarine won the contest, and gets its names from its primary ingredient- margaric acid. Margaric acid is formed by a process known as hydrogenation, which emulsifies animal or vegetable oils and helps them form solid fat. The science of hydrogenation was perfected in 1910. Despite the popularity of margarine elsewhere in the world, it failed to gain much momentum in the United States for quite a few years. This was likely due to the fact that many Americans were so used to the taste of real butter that they couldn’t abandon ship and switch over to margarine. Even by the 1930’s-40’s; dairy lobbyist groups were protesting the expansion of the margarine industry, fearing that the competition might pose a threat to their own success. Eventually, however; Congress repealed the taxes on butter-substitute manufacturers, which opened the door for the long-awaited rise of margarine in the U.S. Margarine is now made with a variety of animal fats, ones from cattle. Unlike butter; margarine can be manufactured in a variety of different consistencies, including a bottled liquid. Strict government regulations specify the required content of margarine, partially due to the fact that it could be easily confused with butter. According to these standards; the margarine must contain at least 80% of either animal or vegetable fat, or a combination of the two. When all the ingredients for margarine are delivered to the manufacturer, the oils as well as the other liquids are all put through rigorous process to clean it and remove any undesirable substances. The oil is then hydrogenated to bring it up to the proper semi-solid consistency. After the oil is finished hydrogenating, it is mixed together with all the other components of the recipe {milk, salt, etc.} and agitated. That’s followed by a final round of quality testing before it’s sent off to be packaged and sold.


The Future Of Butter

The chances seem slim that butter will lose its place amongst the titans of the food world. It has a long history and has only grown in popularity since it’s inception. It’s simply a classic. If enjoyed in moderation, it can add a unique quality to countless different edible  indulgences. It would be difficult to imagine a menu sans butter. One’s options in the kitchen in general would be seriously limited. The most beloved baked goods couldn’t exist. Popcorn would be lacking its trademark flavor. Toast would be topped only with jam. The oft-used adjective “buttery” or any variation thereof would be complete gibberish. Luckily, the billions of people around the world that are so fond of butter have no reason to fear that they’ll be separated from this culinary icon any time in the foreseeable future.