So you must have a signature dish? What’s your favourite thing to cook? What’s your favourite food?
I’m sure some people have honed and perfected their answers, if only for pure ease of conversation, but I’ve always felt too variable to ever really say. I oft jested that it was butter, to raised eyebrows and an assumption that I was hooking butter into food left, right and centre. Not the case I must add; I prefer a lean way of cooking. Everything in moderation I suppose. I digress. Highlighting this observation is no aversion to these enquiries, it simply addresses the unassuming matter that truthfully, I didn’t know and it caused me to think – I must know. With the simple rectitude of an unabashed foodsayer, it is incredibly easy for me to say that I really like most foods. Being both excitable and fickle, I’ll boast a flavour of the week, run with it unreservedly until the next condimentum tempus. Talking condimentum’s… they’re up there. Sriracha! It’s with confidence I cite condiments as a top and most noteworthy food-stuff. Alas, I digress once more; I have given the original question sustained thought, and have realised that each time, I draw the same conclusion. It actually is, butter. Butteriness. Take bread and butter. A slice *cough* delicate spread of sea salted butter on fresh sourdough. Hell, a slab of smoked butter on seeded rye sourdough. Oh and make it cultured won’t you? On baked goods; scones, crumpets, muffins. Butter as a vital ingredient in many tasty and delicious dishes. Butter as a compelling and convincing argument for the bliss of pure simplicity. Butter as an example of nature taking care of itself. An example of natural preservation….
Because when the cream is churned to make butter, it separates to form two substances, the butter and the buttermilk (or whey) that naturally have longer keeping abilities than the original raw cream itself.
Thus, to conclude this realisation, respectfully and thoughtfully, I’ve compiled some matters on butter and a few of the better, butter related things in life.
Tenuously beginning with; Malolactic fermentation and butteriness in… wine.
Malolactic fermentation is the process in winemaking in which tart tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer tasting lactic acid. Malolactic fermentation is most often performed as a secondary fermentation shortly after the end of the primary fermentation, though sometimes it will run concurrently, and is standard for most red wine production and for some white grape varieties such as Chardonnay, where it can impart a ‘buttery’ flavour from diacetyl, a bi-product of the reaction. Diacetyl is an organic compound, a yellow / green liquid with an intensely buttery flavour. It occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages and is added to some foods to impart its buttery flavour. Diacetyl arises naturally as a byproduct of fermentation. Sour (cultured) cream, cultured buttermilk, and cultured butter are produced by inoculating pasteurized cream or milk with a lactic starter culture, churning (agitating) and holding the milk until a desired pH drop (or increase in acidity) is attained. Cultured cream, cultured butter, and cultured buttermilk owe their tart flavour to lactic acid bacteria and their buttery aroma and taste to diacetyl. Now we’re talking.
In alcoholic beverages, at low levels, diacetyl contributes a slipperiness to the feel of the alcoholic beverage in the mouth. As levels increase, it imparts a buttery or butterscotch flavor. Jolly good.
Now, back to Nordic butter maker Patrick Johansson. I worked alongside Patrick when he came to restaurant Noma to make butter, for 3 weeks while I was a stagiare picking herbs and cleaning ants. I had the opportunity to ask him several questions, about how exactly he makes his revered ‘virgin butter’ that is so incredibly popular and well received at Restaurant Noma. He adds a culture to the cream before churning, so the butter will develop that distinct lactic taste, and then churns it. They stop churning when the first butter granules form so that all the buttermilk is retained, unlike most butter which first rests and is then washed to remove as much buttermilk as possible. This means that the butter, due to the presence of the buttermilk, holds a hell of a lot of flavour and a fresh acidity, but it shortens its shelf life.
It’s hardly as though you’re going to let it hang around…
Butter it is.