Butter is the dairy product made from churning milk or cream.
The churning process separates the butterfat (the solids) from the buttermilk (the liquid).
The butter we most often buy is made from cow’s milk, although other varieties — made from the milk of sheep, goat, yak, or buffalo — are also available.
Butter is often eaten on bread, as a main ingredient in biscuits, as a shortening agent in some baking and cooking recipes, and for frying foods.
The earliest butter would have been from sheep or goat’s milk; cattle are not thought to have been domesticated for another thousand years.
As one legend has it, among the rolling hills of ancient Africa, sometime around 8000 BC, a dusty traveler was making gastronomic history, quite by accident. Thirsty from a long, hot journey, the weary herdsman reached for the sheepskin bag of milk knotted to the back of his pack animal. But as he tilted his head to pour the warm liquid into his mouth, he was astonished to find that the sheep’s milk had curdled. The rough terrain and constant joggling of the milk had transformed it into butter – and bewilderingly, it tasted heavenly.
In the Bible, butter is a food for celebration, first mentioned when Abraham and Sarah offer three visiting angels a feast of meat, milk and the creamy yellow spread.
The ancient Greeks and Romans seemed to have considered butter a food fit more for the northern barbarians. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder calls butter “the most delicate of food among barbarous nations”, and goes on to describe its medicinal properties.
In the cooler climates of northern Europe, people could store butter longer before it spoiled. Scandinavia has the oldest tradition in Europe of butter export trade, dating at least to the 12th century.
After the fall of Rome and through much of the Middle Ages, butter was a common food across most of Europe — but had a low reputation, and so was consumed principally by peasants.
Butter slowly became more accepted by the upper class, notably when the early 16th century Roman Catholic Church allowed its consumption during Lent.
In antiquity, butter was used for fuel in lamps as a substitute for oil. The Butter Tower of Rouen Cathedral was erected in the early 16th century when Archbishop Georges d’Amboise authorized the burning of butter instead of oil, which was scarce at the time, during Lent.
By the 1860s, butter had become so in demand in France that Emperor Napoleon III offered prize money for an inexpensive substitute to supplement France’s inadequate butter supplies. A French chemist claimed the prize with the invention of margarine in 1869.
The first butter factories appeared in the United States in the early 1860s, after the successful introduction of cheese factories a decade earlier.
The Great Depression and World War II challenged America’s love affair with butter. The turmoil brought shortages and rationing, and margarine — now made with vegetable oil and yellow food coloring — became a cheaper option for American families. Since then however, butter has staged a comeback.
It takes 5 liters (10 US pints) of milk to make 225 g (1/2 pound) of butter.
Commercial butter is 80–82 percent milk fat, 16–17 percent water, and 1–2 percent milk solids other than fat (sometimes referred to as curd).
Butter remains a firm solid when refrigerated, but softens to a spreadable consistency at room temperature, and melts to a thin liquid consistency at 32 to 35 °C (90 to 95 °F).
Butter is a high-energy food, containing approximately 715 calories per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
Butter has substantial amounts of vitamin A and minor amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D and E.
Many people believe that butter is fattening because it is high in fat and calories. However, this doesn’t seem to be true when butter is eaten in normal amounts, as a part of a healthy diet
In all, about a third of the world’s milk production is devoted to making butter.
Its natural, unmodified color is dependent on the source animal’s feed and genetics.
In the United States, vegetable color can be added to commercial butter in order to improve yellowness.
We may think of garlic butter as an Italian treat, but some of the commonest archaeological finds in Ireland are barrels of ancient garlic butter, buried in peat bogs in wooden firkins (the Norse, Finns, Icelanders, and the Scots did the same). The longer it was left, the more delicious it became. Specimens have been found dating back to the 11th century, some of which weighed over 45 kilograms 100 pounds.
Échiré butter is the most expensive butter in the world. Handmade in a small pocket of western France – this butter is loved by chefs and served in many of the world’s most famous restaurants. It cost about $20 per 250 grams (8.8 ounces).
Butter sculptures often depict animals, people, buildings and other objects. They are best known as attractions at state fairs in the United States as lifesize cows and people, but can also be found on banquet tables and even small decorative butter pats. Butter carving was an ancient craft in Tibet, Babylon, Roman Britain and elsewhere. The earliest documented butter sculptures date from Europe in 1536, where they were used on banquet tables. The earliest pieces in the modern sense as public art date from ca. 1870s America, created by Caroline Shawk Brooks, a farm woman from Helena, Arkansas.