I was raised on spray-on cooking oils and low-fat, low-cholesterol, always-spreadable tubs of anemic yellow goo with ridiculous long names and cartoon cows on the packaging. My austere English mother would spread it on and scrape it off like sealant.
My Irish partner favours butter. Real butter.
Butter is now the key ingredient in our household, not a sidelined dirty secret in the covered section of the fridge door but a central and adored member of the family. Spread half an inch thick on bread, teeth marks are left in it like a dentist’s mould for braces. The English woman in me recoils and shudders at the cholesterol, the decadence, the cellulite, but the 13 years of Ireland in my blood adores the luxurious goodness, silently reciting the old adage – butter makes everything taste better.
We have become butter connoisseurs: butter in the pantry in its dainty porcelain dish, poised and ready for lavishly spreading and devouring – instant gratification; Salted butter, unsalted butter, Kerrygold in its shiny golden paper next to patties of glory enveloped in greaseproof paper and brown string bought at a farmers’ market; Butter I churned myself from organic cream ready for making lavender shortbread.
Now, on returning home to England I go with fresh eyes – no more spreadable vegetable fats and spray – I search the English dairies and find clotted cream butter, imprinted with a cow, and bring it home as a trophy to my butter fiend.
Butter is paramount to the quality of the cakes and biscuits I make at Wildflour Bakery. Irish butter is second to none – in fact to my mind Ireland’s dairy produce is the jewel in its crown. Cows reared on Irish grass, grazing outside for the majority of the year are what’s key to the greatness of Irish butter. When I’m making something which really showcases the quality of the butter, such as my lavender shortbread, I like to churn up my own to ensure it really is outrageously good. For this, I favour Mossfield organic cream, from County Offaly. It’s rich and sexy and perfect for all kinds of decadence.
It is very difficult to get unsalted organic butter in the shops, and this is because without the addition of salt as a preservative, it doesn’t hold very long and will turn rancid quite quickly. Therefore, it is not a very commercial product. If you are buying it at a farmers’ market, go ahead and stock up as it freezes beautifully until you need it. McNally’s Family Farm based at the farmers’ markets at Temple Bar and Dun Laoghaire do a divine example.
Do give making your own butter a try, it really is incredibly simple. I learnt from the wonderful blog of my friend Imen McDonnell – here is a link to her blog post on making butter which she makes using raw milk from her own farm. Quite simply, get your hands on some organic cream (about 750ml worth) and pop it in to your KitchenAid or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Use the cover (and a tea towel covering it and tucked in) as it will spit furiously. Whisk it on full speed until you hear a change – a clunking in the bowl – fat globules are split open with all the exertion to release yellow butterfat. This will take several minutes, be patient. Carefully check, you will know when it is done as you will have yellow butter wedged in your whisk and a bowl full of buttermilk. Pop your butter into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes and pour your buttermilk into a sterilized jam jar and store in the fridge ready for making scones, or pancakes, or…but that’s a whole other blog post. For now, enjoy your butter – make something fabulous with it, and savour every bite.