Butter is a natural dairy product made by churning fresh cream until the fats separate from the liquids. According to U.S. government standards, butter must be made exclusively from milk, cream or both, with or without common salt and contain at least 80% milkfat by weight.
To produce it, modern creameries use highly controlled methods to inspect, separate and pasteurize the milk and cream. Once pasteurized, the cream is churned until it becomes solid. Then it's packaged and distributed to your local supermarket where it waits to be brought home and spread onto fresh bread or baked into a perfectly flaky pie crust.
Varieties and Buying Tips
There two main types of butter produced in the U.S. are sweet cream and cultured.
- Sweet cream is the most widely produced and it comes in lightly salted, unsalted or whipped varieties.
- Salted butter enhances flavor and has a longer shelf life. It's the perfect table butter and good for general cooking.
- Unsalted butter does not contain any preservatives and therefore has a shorter shelf life. This is the butter you want to have on-hand to delicately flavor seafood or bake wonderfully textured sweets and treats.
- Whipped butter, which comes in tubs, is whipped with air or nitrogen to make a light and airy spread that doesn't need softening.
Cultured butter gained popularity in Europe, and is now being produced in the U.S. Made from cultured sour cream, this butter has a rich, complex flavor. A lower moisture content makes it ideal for baking and it produces flakier pastries and fluffier cakes.
Refrigerator: Store in its original container in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not the door). Opened or unwrapped sticks should always be put in a separate compartment, covered in a butter dish or placed in a resealable plastic food bag to prevent them from absorbing other food odors. Use refrigerated butter within one month or within two weeks of the date printed on the carton.
Freezer: For long-term storage, any type of butter can be frozen in its original container for up to four months. To protect flavor and texture, place in an airtight, resealable plastic freezer bag or wrap tightly with heavy-duty foil.
Counter: To keep butter softened for ease of use, you can keep it in a covered dish at room temperature for three to five days. The flavor and color may change, but it is safe to use.
- For baking, soften butter for easier mixing. Remove from refrigerator and let stand 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature. To soften quickly, cut into chunks and allow to soften for 15 minutes. If time is really short, place a cold stick between two sheets of waxed paper and hit with a rolling pin to smash.
- Avoid softening butter in the microwave as this causes melting. Melted butter doesn't mix into your flour and dough the same way softened would.