The Case for Butter

Health-CaseButter-600x626By Trauger Groh
Biodynamic Farmer, Author & Lecturer

Butter and Honey shall He eat that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good
—Isaiah 7:15

The use of butter for human nutrition and the processing of milk into cream and then butter is as old as the keeping of cattle as domestic animals. It goes back to prehistoric times. The process is simple and has been in use for thousands of years. Raw milk is put into vats and placed in a cool place. After twenty-four hours, most of the cream rises to the surface and can be skimmed off with a flat spoon, owing to the fact that the fat globules are the lighter part of the milk. Traditionally the cream is then fermented by acid-producing germs. This process takes about 24 to 36 hours in the summer and when it is completed the sour cream is mechanically beaten with wooden tools until the butterfat globules stick together and the protein-carrying liquid the buttermilk is released. Then the butter is washed thoroughly to get out all remaining protein particles. Finally, the butter is kneaded to remove as much water as possible, then salted and formed.

Since man began to make and use butter, he made it from ripened matured cream sour cream. A change to unsoured or sweet cream butter came only during the 1940’s. The reasons for the change were purely technical. Machines work most economically and profitably when they run permanently. Buttering machines were constructed that transformed sweet cream endlessly into butter. Sour cream at this time resisted this process. You had to fill the churn with one batch of sour cream, finish buttering, clean the churn and start again. Thus for purely technical reasons, people became used to sweet cream butter.

The standard book about butter making from 1915, Principles and Practise of Butter Making by McKay and Larson, does not even mention sweet cream butter. Here is what the authors say about making butter:

“To Produce Flavor and Aroma: The chief object of cream-ripening is to secure the desirable and delicate flavor and aroma which are so characteristic of good butter. These flavoring substances, so far as known, can only be produced by a process of fermentation. It is a well known fact that the best flavor in butter is obtained when the cream assumes a clean, pure, acid taste during the ripening. For this reason, it is essential to have the acid-producing germs predominate during the cream ripening; all other germs should, if possible, be excluded or suppressed. . . . When cream has been properly ripened, it is practically a pure culture of lactic-acid-producing germs, while sweet unpasteurized cream contains a bacterial flora, consisting of a great many types of desirable and undesirable germs.”

Here a very important point is touched on: Lactic-acid-producing germs very helpful for our digestion are able to suppress all other unwanted, even pathogenic, germs. Lactic-acid fermentation is far superior to the heating of milk (pasteurization) in suppressing pathogenic germs. The pasteurization of the milk dramatically changes the fine composition of the raw milk. Even warming to 120 degrees Fahrenheit alters this fine composition that includes various proteins, vitamins, sugars and enzymes. Homogenization destroys the butterfat globules so much that the cream can no longer rise in the milk. The milk is denaturalized.

Buttering cream is, as we have seen, a purely mechanical process. The quality of the cream is the deciding factor, and this means that the cream should be properly ripened and contain a preponderance of lactic-acid producing germs. The cream ripening is usually achieved with the help of a starter. Besides a pure culture obtained by a laboratory, we can use as a natural starter a great many dairy products which are supposed to contain a preponderance of those germs involved in producing the desirable flavor in butter: buttermilk, sour cream, whey, sour whole or skimmed milk. A great advantage of sour cream buttering is that it produces, besides the butter, the refreshing and highly digestible buttermilk. The buttermilk coming out of modern sweet cream buttering tastes flat and cannot be used for human consumption. True buttermilk is no longer on the market. What is on the market under this name is not the result of the buttering process of sour cream. It is usually pasteurized skimmed milk, fermented with a laboratory culture.

At the beginning of this century we still had experienced, old country medical doctors. When they were called to a baby that had an intolerance of cow’s milk, they often gave the farmers the advice to separate a cow from the herd and to feed her only good hay no grain, no silage (which was not in use anyway), no mangels or rutabagas and feed the child with the milk of this cow. Most babies then could digest this milk. If in some cases the child could not take this milk, then doctors recommended feeding buttermilk from farm-produced butter. I have myself experienced such a case in my youth where a starving child could be helped that way.

The point I want to make here is that the quality of the butter depends on the quality of the cream and its proper fermentation. The quality of our cream depends on the quality of the milk and the quality of the milk depends on the way the animals are fed on the farm. Cows that are fed as it is usual in this country with concentrates containing grain and soy, in addition to large amounts of corn silage and with only a little hay produce large amounts of milk 20,000 pounds and more per year but have constant light diarrhea and often have diseased livers, a fact that shows up only in the slaughterhouse. Their milk is of a totally different quality than the milk of a cow fed with grass and hay. Their lives are on the average ended within five or six years instead of twelve to fifteen years that a properly fed cow can reach.

After the suffering of the cow comes the suffering of the milk. The milk has to be deep cooled on the farm because the milk truck comes only two or three times a week (energy use). In the factory it has to be warmed up for the separator that separates the cream (energy use). Then the cream and the de-creamed milk have to be pasteurized with another high use of energy. Then cream and skimmed milk have to be united again into “whole milk.” Part of the cream goes into butter. Everything then has to be deep cooled, transported and deep cooled again before it comes into the hands of the consumer (more energy use). In the whole process, many vitamins are lost. No problem, synthetic vitamin A is added. Who expects this white liquid or this whitish, tasteless butterfat to have any life-giving properties? In addition to all that is mentioned, the milk has to be pushed and sucked through miles of pipes that have to be chemically cleaned. Here more often than you think a late new germ infection is happening in the pasteurized matter.

Farm to close-to-farm processing saves huge amounts of energy and leaves the life forces of the milk intact. The consumers have to fight for the right to choose raw milk and raw milk products from farms they know and trust. They have to fight for their rights against the close cooperation of dairy industry and state veterinarians.

This country was based on a concept of freedom. We have to fight to reestablish the freedom of choice on all levels! The right to choose the medication I trust; the right to choose the school I trust for my children; and the right to choose the food I trust from the sources I know and can trust.

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6 thoughts on “The Case for Butter

  1. really nice I produced a million lbs a year of 4% or better bf milk.drank it as a baby in the barn as my parents worked.18 hr days ect . been looking for the methods that gene Tomkins tought me about butter making and bread making ,I miss it ,flavours you cant describe.

  2. Very good article.We had 6 children. We for years were able to buy at least 6 gallons of raw milk per week all in gallon jars. This man had at least 5-6 cows. We bought his cream in gallon jars he had a mechanical cream separator which made the cream so heavy / thick it was a mayonnaise texture.We then allowed it to sour and we made the best tasting butter you can imagine.

  3. We are adamant lovers and supporters of butter, however, we heard grass fed butter is very healthy for you. We live in QC Canada, where can we buy this?

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