One of dairy’s best attributes as a food category is that milk’s versatility means there is a dairy product that can fit almost any cooking, baking, or eating need. For even more variety, the flavors available of cheeses, ice creams, yogurts, and even milks allow people to find products they enjoy.
Butter, a kitchen staple, is not on that list of foods with diverse options. It is a classic that may vary from salted to unsalted and with different fat levels depending on where it was produced, but it is largely a standard product. Still, there may be more variety to butter than you thought.
A recipe developer and food writer for the Washington Post recently devoted a column to cultured butter, which is made when live cultures are allowed to ferment in pasteurized cream before it is churned into butter. The addition of cultures, like how yogurt is made, gives this type of butter a more acidic, tangier, and richer flavor than our common sweet cream butter.
In the days before refrigeration, butter was often cultured, wrote Aaron Hutcherson in the Post article. A room-temperature or warm environment allowed bacteria to ferment as the cream rose to the top. With the advent of cooling in dairy processing and mechanical cream separation, though, there was no opportunity for fermentation.
Now, cultured butter is coming back because of its unique flavors and properties. It often has a higher butterfat content, which works well for flaky pastries. Its creamy texture makes it more spreadable. And Hutcherson believes it is a good fit for dishes where the flavor of the butter stands out, such as shortbread or biscuits.
Cultured butter is typically more expensive than regular butter, but it can be found at some large grocers around the country. As we begin heading into the fall baking and holiday season, it provides one more delicious way dairy products can become the star of any meal.