Butter is Essential

butteryButter is Essential. Boy, am I mad. I just am.

Butter gets a bad rap. It just does.

Butter is the cornerstone of cooking. It just is. I could stop here and feel I have made my point. But if there is any chance I have not vindicated butter with these declarations. Then I better back these statements up with some facts.

Butter has been considered the bad guy because of saturated fat. In fact, there is no actual evidence that saturated fat is bad for you. It may even be a vital ingredient in healthy eating (don’t shut down, stick with me!). Basically, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding fat. That’s because there are a lot of different fats. But to simplify it I’ll break it into two categories saturated and unsaturated.

When you look at a food label in the grocery store you’ll see right there in black and white a whole line reserved for saturated fat. They even give the percentage value for your recommended daily consumption. 

What does this make you think? It makes you think that you need to limit these saturated fats for no other reason than they are fats. But this isn’t true. It just isn’t.

Somehow it has entered our psyches that heart disease is CAUSED by the build up of saturated fats and cholesterol in the arteries of our hearts.

In truth, the build-up varies from person to person. Its composition of elements varies as well. But, typically the most common elements are unsaturated fats. Cholesterol is not a common element in the actual build up. Cholesterol is a bi-product of the damage that the fatty acids have caused to the arterial walls (it is produced in the liver). It may even be a device used by the body to repair that damage. There is proof of this in the fact that the cholesterol level in our blood is consistent. Whether that blood is in an artery or a vein. Why does it not stick to the walls of a vein? I believe this means that cholesterol does not cause heart disease. Which is not to say it is always a good thing (or always a bad thing either…). I will say cholesterol is a still good indicator for heart disease, but not necessarily the cause.

But I have strayed from butter and it’s saturated fat. I’ll try and simplify it by saying there are considerable and reliable studies that seem to show that consuming saturated fats can increase the HDL (good cholesterol) in our blood. Look it up on the Internet if you like. The information is there.

It is now becoming more apparent that the real villain in this drama is the lipoprotein(a). Which Wikipedia says, “Lipoprotein(a) (also called Lp(a)) is a lipoprotein subclass. Studies have identified Lp(a) as a putative risk factor for atherosclerotic diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke”.

With that in mind, it is interesting to note that there is a type of fat that causes an increase in lipoprotein in our blood. That fat is the dreaded trans-fat. Which is an unsaturated fat. A truly horrendous little bugger.

If you read the paper or eat fast food you are probably familiar with this guy. He does not live anywhere near really good, really tasty, really essential butter!

Besides butter has so many wonderful qualities. Not the least of these are actual health benefits. I swear!

But the real reason I love butter is its flavor. It cannot be replicated. It just can’t.

The great thing is you can make butter at home. There are some very good reasons to do it too. The main reason is again… flavor!

If you are as old as I am you may have had to “see the light” about butter on a European vacation. You may have thought “what is this creamy yellow concoction gracing the crusty crevices of my baguette” (I actually used to talk like that in my youth). It turned out to be butter!

Of course, I tried to get some of this stuff home in my luggage. But butter doesn’t travel well in coach. It just doesn’t.

Now, happily, you can get really good European butter right here in Los Angeles and many other places…if you are willing to pay the price. I prefer not to.

So, that started me on a hand-made butter quest. I made and re-made butter. The process is simple.

But there are some sticking points to getting that sweet, tangy, deeply yellow butter of my European travels of the 1980’s.

Butter is just cream. It can be cultured (that’s how I prefer it) or not. But basically it is cream separated into butter solids and butter liquids the result is what we call butter and buttermilk. Agitation causes the solids to clump together forming a party that buttermilk is just not invited to.

My early less than Euro-style butter came from thinking “cream is cream”. I should, should, should, have known better. Without knocking any nationally recognized dairy products I’ll simply say. The fresher, the “rawer”, the less pasteurized cream you can get is the way to go. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you’ll pay a pretty penny for it. But if you live on a farm…call me (soon)!

I have to be honest though. I still have not replicated the butter of my dreams. But don’t let this stop you from making butter. It’s fun and it is better than most of the stuff at the grocery store. But it has yet to make me say “what is this creamy yellow concoction gracing the crusty crevices of my baguette”. It just hasn’t. GREG


Greg Henry