Butter | CUESA

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This rich golden spread has a special place in the hearts of bakers, chefs, and food lovers everywhere. Butter is made when cream is churned, thickening into a solid state. When agitated, the fat (butterfat) in cream separates from the liquid (buttermilk). The butterfat is then washed and pressed into a solid shape.

Most butter is made with cow’s milk, but it can also be made from the milk of other animals like buffalo, goat, camel, yak, and sheep. While butter is generally yellow, the color depends on the diet of the animal producing the milk. Industrially made butter is sometimes colored with annatto or carotene to give it the consistent, golden hue expected by most consumers.

Butter sold in the US is typically made up of approximately 80% butterfat with a maximum of 16% water and 2% milk solids. In Europe, a higher percentage of butterfat is preferred because it yields a stronger flavor, higher plasticity, and a higher melting point. Butter is great for baking with and can also be used for frying or sautéing, though it has a relatively low smoke point compared to other fats.

Butter is graded according to flavor, color, texture, aroma, and body using a letter code and sometimes a number. It is available in many forms, the most common being sweet cream and cultured. Sweet cream butter, the most popular in the United States, is made with cream that has been pasteurized, a process that kills bacteria that would naturally ferment the sugar present in the cream. To produce cultured butter, the most popular type sold in Europe, bacteria ferments the sugar in cream, yielding a more tart and tangy product with increased acidity.

Butter can also be salted, when granular salt or brine is added during production, or unsalted, which is preferred for baking. Other common types are ghee (also called clarified or drawn butter), which is almost pure butterfat, and compound butter, which has spices and herbs mixed in. Butter has a long shelf life when refrigerated, which minimizes exposure to light and oxygen. It should also be tightly wrapped, as it easily absorbs other flavors. A strong smell and bitter flavor is indicative of butter that has become rancid.

Recipes with Butter

Ballpark Brittle Miette

Ballpark Brittle

Meg Ray, Miette

Asparagus with Brown Butter and Pecans

Daisy Martinez, author of Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night: Bringing Your Family Together with Everyday Latin Dishes (Atria, 2010).

Winter Cabbage Soup

Yann,  Eatwell Farms

Shortcake Biscuits

Kathleen Stewart, Downtown Bakery & Creamery


CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »