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Butter, Types

There are four basic types of butter available -

"Sweet butter": made from simply churned fresh cream, in France this would be labelled doux.

"Lactic butter": the cream for this butter was traditionally left to ripen (in the same way as that used for crème fraiche) - a slightly sour taste develops. This process is speeded up in commercial circumstances by the adding of cultures.

"Salted butter": salt in various degrees can be added in varying degrees, this was originally done as a preservative, but out of habit has become the preferred choice of many - some might contain as much as 1.8% salt. This unfortunately covers any individual characteristics the best butter might have - although the best butters would never be salted. If buying French butter, lightly-salted butter is labelled demi-sel.

"Whey butter": Good, if less rich, butter can also be made from the whey left behind after cheese-making.

In Britain and Ireland sweet-cream butter is generally made with unsoured cream, continental butters tend to be lactic (see above). In the days when every rural household churned its own butter, sweet-cream butters needed quite heavy salting, while lactic butters, already half-preserved, needed less.

Colour also varies from country to country - this can depend on the diet of the animals. Those mainly living on grass, tend to be naturally more yellow, while a diet that includes a lot of grain will lead to a pale product. 

Hence, Continental butters are ivory white (with the general exception of those from Normandy), while the traditional tastes of the English, Irish and Welsh lean towards the yellow associated with increased rainfall (hence more grass) and the rich Channel Island breeds. In Scotland a paler butter, reflecting the diet and breed of their cattle is produced.

Although the French might occasionally add top-quality sea salt to their butter, they fail to understand our passion for butter corrupted with cheap salt, so you taste little else. Many people in Britain grew up on butter from New Zealand, where salting was necessary for the product to satisfactorily-survive the long sea trip - generations have associated this salt as part of the natural taste of butter. Most French butters are "lactic" and possibly not to everyone"s taste.

Butter freezes well with little or no loss of flavour, as long as its kept away from strong flavours - such as smoked fish. See also "Almonds"

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