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References to butter date back to as early as the ninth century B.C. in India, but its “invention” is credited to the nomadic tribes of Asia around 3500 B.C. , although the first batch probably came about by accident. It is assumed that when the people of these tribes strapped bags containing milk onto their persons or saddles as nourishment for a journey, the resulting motion of the ride churned the milk. If the weather was cold enough, a bit of fat rose to the top of the bag and the result came to be butter. On the other hand, if the weather was too warn, the result was what came to be cheese. The use of butter eventually spread westward when these Asian peoples invaded the lands of the Near East and Europe.
Eventually, butter began to be manufactured in vertical churns by other developed civilizations. A picture of a primitive churn is evident in a Sumerian bas-relief dating from around 3500 B.C. One of the first written references to the substance comes from India in the form of a ninth-century etiquette manual. It suggested that Hindu brides be given milk, honey, and butter on the day of their wedding. The manuscript also mentioned greasing the wheel of the bridal carriage with butter to insure a trouble-free marriage. Because the cow is regarded as a sacred animal in Hindu religion, butter has long played an important role in Indian cuisine, and is mentioned specifically in religious tracts. In neighboring Tibet, butter made from the milk of yak was sometimes smeared on religious statues.
Soon butter became common to cultures that relied on the domesticated cow for sustenance, but it could also be made from the milk of sheep and goats. Although Greeks and Romans were not fond of rich, dairy-based foods, the word “butter” is derived from the Greek term buturon, meaning “cow’s cheese.” The term later found its way into Latin asbutyrum. Celts and later the Vikings eventually became devotees of the substance, and by the late Middle Ages it was a staple in the diets of many Europeans and a valued trading commodity. The dairy product has also been considered a mystical salve during certain periods of history. For centuries, the people of Brittany placed butter near a person suffering from cancer to absorb the disease.
The first printed instructions for making butter can be traced back to a 14th-century Venetian cookbook. By the 17th century, butter was traded on routes that included England, Brittany, Flanders, and Iceland. The butter produced in Vanves, France, was thought to be the most exquisite d
caused leprosy. The dairy product eventually became a prohibited item for fast days as decreed by the Roman Catholic Church, although a dispensation could be purchased for those who simply could not go without it. In Rouen, France, legend has it that a “butter tower” was financed solely by such dispensations granted for eating butter on fast days.
Butter manufacturing in the U.S. dates from the time of the first colonists who brought cows with them to North America. Families who owned their own cows usually made butter themselves. Milk from the cow was left alone until its cream rose to the top. The cream was then skimmed off and left to cool, and the temperature was raised to about 70°F (21°C) a day before the buttermaking process was to begin. Heating the cream ripened it, and it was then cooled several degrees. Next, the cream was placed in a wooden device, sometimes barrel-shaped or otherwise cylindrical, and mixed with the help of a paddle. This process generally took at least 30 minutes. The leftover cream in the churn was buttermilk. If the cows were eating grass, the butter possessed a yellowish cast, but during winter, when they were getting other types of feed, it was white. The butter was then rinsed with cool water, “worked over” a bit more, then salted for taste.
- 1 For many years the major creameries for butter manufacturing were located in the states of the Eastern seaboard, but the flourishing of a more industrialized agriculture in the Midwest led to the predominance of butter-making facilities there. The modern butter-making process begins when fresh cow’s milk from dairy farms is brought into the facility. The product is inspected, classified into different groups according to its adjudged quality, and then filtered to remove impurities. Then the milk is separated by means of centrifugal force. It is pumped into a large, cylindrical, vertical rotator device. When turned on, this rotator spins the liquid until the cream rises to the top. The cream is then fed into large stainless steel vats and heated to 180°F (82°C) for about 30 minutes in the pasteurization process to remove any lingering bacteria. The pasteurized cream is then left to cool.
- 2 The cream is placed in a large, mechanical churn usually made of aluminum. Some of these industrial-sized churns can make 1,500-5,000 pounds (681-2270 kg) of butter at a time. When the churn is activated, it tumbles the cream, much like the motion of a clothes dryer, while a worker watches the process through a small glass window on the churn. After about 45 minutes, small granules of butter begin to form, and the butter and buttermilk are separated. Salt is added, and the mixture is churned further. When this process is completed, a stainless steel mobile device sometimes called a “boat” is placed adjacent to the opening of the mechanical churn. The door of the churn is opened, and the butter begins to spill out into the boat; activating the churn removes the rest. It is then wrapped into 64-pound (29 kg) cartons and sent to the distributor. There, the butter is repackaged for consumer and food-service industry use.