Smoked butter

Smoked butter

By
From
Finding Fire
Makes
400 g

In my years growing up in the UK and then training in a French kitchen, butter was one of the most important kitchen staples; it was incorporated into every dish and served with every meal. Yet in spite of over-beating cream on numerous occasions in the past, I had never made butter. It wasn’t until I lived in Spain, where everything is cooked with olive oil, that I wanted to pursue it further. With cows, goats and sheep, the Basque country boasts a rich dairy industry, producing cheese, but not butter, so we decided to give it a go. But first we had to learn from the best, so we drove seven hours to a small farmstead just on the outskirts of Nantes in France. There we found an old housewife who milked her grass-fed cows for market, retaining the cream on the surface to make butter by hand. The naturally occurring lactic acid had matured and cultured the cream, resulting in a tangy richness. Sitting on a stool, she slowly worked the cream, her only equipment a traditional wooden bowl and her hand. We watched as she beat the thick cream with her hand until it gave way to rich curds and buttermilk. As she kneaded the paste, tears of buttermilk wept on the surface. I noticed the colour deepening, resulting in a rich, yellow butter.

Butter is a pure expression of the land, with a notable variation in taste in the spring, when the cows are in the fields feeding on succulent grasses, herbs and flowers. In the winter, they survive on leaner rations so the taste of winter butter, while still opulent, is markedly different.

Making good butter is a simple process but you do need to follow a particular sequence. Speed and delicate precision are required to ensure the best outcomes in terms of taste, texture and appearance.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 litre Smoked cream
filtered water, chilled
fleur de sel or sea salt

Method

  1. 1. Place the smoked cream into a large bowl and leave it for 36 hours to ripen in a cool place (6–8°C/45°F).
  2. 2. Using a whisk, beat to a stiff cream. Continue whisking the cream until it is just on the point of splitting. Remove the whisk and scrape down the sides with a spatula.
  3. 3. With a clean hand, continue to mix the cream; the temperature of your hand will help it to separate. You will notice the mixture loosening and splitting, with a texture resembling ricotta curds as the cream breaks into butterfat globules. A deep sunny yellow will develop and the buttermilk will separate from the butter.
  4. 4. Strain the buttermilk. You can reserve this for later use.
  5. 5. Knead the butter using your hands, squeezing to release the buttermilk. Place the butter in a container and cover with chilled filtered water, which will rinse it, cool it down and firm it slightly. This makes handling easier. Leave for 5 minutes before draining the water.
  6. 6. Repeat the rinsing with the water two more times until the water runs completely clear.
  7. 7. Gather the butter in your hands, squeeze out any excess water and place it in a clean mixing bowl. Season with salt to taste. The salt will draw out the remaining droplets of water, which will weep on the surface.
  8. 8. Wrap well in baking paper and chill until required. Enjoy as it is, or for a decadent seasonal treat, serve on top of grilled bread with shavings of black truffle.

NOTES

  • The smoked cream needs time to ripen, so begin the recipe at least 36 hours ahead of time.

    Butter should be wrapped tightly, stored in a dark place and away from strong-tasting ingredients. This helps to prevent it becoming rancid or picking up undesirable odours. Butter is best served at 14°C (60°F).
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