Sometimes I feel bad for those who were raised on real milk, garden vegetables, homemade this and that. Over the years I have envied that upbringing since I was a bit of a hard-knocks kid, and in the realm of eating, I was brought up on most of the foods of industry, including depths of take-out and fast food. But I wonder if a result of years of those meals has given me a more discerning palate. This leads me to butter.
I’ve been thinking a lot about butter lately, buying new blocks every other week, noticing distinct shades and flavors, reading labels completely, taking butter for granted really. More butter, my daughter says every time she sees me smearing it on her toast.
I was raised on always-creamy margarine from a large plastic tub; my grandma, who mostly fed me, called it olio. I can recall that silvery, sweet, tangy sting from that spreadable stuff and know distinctly that it’s nothing like its unadulterated cousin: real butter. Real butter, that is traditional butter made from pastured (or grass-fed) cows and their milk. Real butter, like real milk, is a highly nutritious food, full of vitamins, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, beta-carotene and high in the beneficial fat CLA.
In Real Food by Nina Planck, a book I think is fabulous at laying out for you the beauty, history and health of whole foods, writes this recipe for margarine: Begin with a polyunsaturated, liquid vegetable oil rancid from extraction under high heat. Any oil will do, but about 85 percent of hydrogenated oils are soybean. Mix with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide. In a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor, shoot hydrogen atoms at the unsaturated carbon bonds. Add soaplike emulsifiers and starch to make it soft and creamy. Steam it yellow, and add artificial flavors.
Here are a few (local) butters worth checking out, all of which fall into most of the categories of traditional butter: Rochdale Farms hand-rolled butter, Hope Creamery Butter, and my newest favorite Organic Valley Pasture Butter (a limited edition butter made from milk pastured last May-September).