The Secrets of Irish Butter
Supposedly my great-grandmother, who lived to be 104, started each day with a piece of toast spread with both cream cheese and butter, and I think I may have inherited her love for fattening dairy products. Hopefully, that will not compromise any longevity she may have passed down to me.
She wasn’t Irish, and neither am I. But some of the best butter with which to slather your toast is.
In Europe, the cows must eat some gourmet grass, because the milk they produce is creamy. Much of it really does contain a higher percentage of butterfat than you find in American milk, and that translates into fantastic ice cream and wonderful butter. (Though it doesn’t seem to affect the milk, which at least the French drink out of pantry-stable cartons; regarding this, the sixth entry on Oh Happy Day’s list of 10 hard things about living in Paris made me laugh). That deliciously high butterfat content partly explains why you can’t recreate Parisian croissants or Poilâne “punishment cookies” in the U.S. that taste exactly like the real French goodies.
Last summer, in a post about garlic bread, I talked about how much I adore Vermont Creamery’s tube of cultured, salted butter, which is made here in the European sprit. In case you’ve never had it: try it; it’s good. Just about as good is Kerrygold, imported Irish butter that’s golden yellow, slightly tangy, and a little bit salty.
What is Kerrygold? It’s butter that has been cultured, like yogurt, to create a richer and more interesting flavor. Yes, we probably mainly like it because fat is enticing, but the culturing step does transform the ramekin of butter into a pot of gold, like one you might, er, discover at the end of the, er, rainbow.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, I decided to try to make my own Irish-style cultured butter, which isn’t hard, though it does take a little bit of patience. It was fun! And delicious! Instructions below.
Since I’ve got no particular plans to embark on rampages of Irish coffee drinking, pub crawling, or offensive shirt wearing, I’ll be celebrating the day by spreading half an inch of this butter on my Irish soda bread, you know, so I can live to be 104.
(For lots of non-buttery St. Patty’s day fun, check out these mashed potatoes, a pre-game green egg breakfast, and some Irish coffee. Also, I’m in love with these Guinness chocolate puddings from Epicurious–genius!)
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Makes about 6 ounces
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman and The Traveler’s Lunchbox. Buy cream that hasn’t been ultra-pasturized and that has no ingredients besides, well, cream.
2 cups organic cream
3 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt with live active cultures
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Whisk together 1/2 cream and the yogurt in a ceramic bowl until no lumps remain. Slowly whisk in the remaining cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm corner of your kitchen for about 18 hours.
When the cream is done “culturing,” it should smell and taste a bit tangy, like yogurt.
Pour the cream into your food processor and process until the solids separate from the liquids, about 1 minute. You can also use a mixer (handheld or standing), or a manual eggbeater. But then watch out for splatter when the buttermilk separates. Another option is to put the cream into a tightly closed mason jar and shake like hell (that’s how we did it in elementary school).
Place the butter in another small bowl. In a third, larger bowl, combine cold tap water with ice to make ice water.
What you want to do now is basically rinse the butter in the ice water until the liquid it gives off is clear. This means you’re getting rid of all the leftover milk, which can cause the butter to go bad really quickly. So basically pour some of ice water into your bowl with the butter and knead it with your hand. Pour off the murky water into the sink, then add some more. After about 5 or 6 rinses, the water that comes off should be clear. Also: as you pour on the ice water, the butter will firm off and stop sticking to your hand.
Knead in about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste – you can also use flaky sea salt – then scrape the butter into a ramekin or mold it into a tube using plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to a week; freeze any you don’t think you’ll use in that time.