Before modern factory butter making, cream was usually collected from several milkings and was therefore several days old and somewhat fermented by the time it was made into butter. Butter made from a fermented cream is known as cultured butter. During fermentation, the cream naturally sours as bacteria convert milk sugars into lactic acid. The fermentation process produces additional aroma compounds, including diacetyl, which makes for a fuller-flavored and more "buttery" tasting product. Today, cultured butter is usually made from pasteurized cream whose fermentation is produced by the introduction of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria.
Another method for producing cultured butter, developed in the early 1970s, is to produce butter from fresh cream and then incorporate bacterial cultures and lactic acid. Using this method, the cultured butter flavor grows as the butter is aged in cold storage. For manufacturers, this method is more efficient, since aging the cream used to make butter takes significantly more space than simply storing the finished butter product. A method to make an artificial simulation of cultured butter is to add lactic acid and flavor compounds directly to the fresh-cream butter; while this more efficient process is claimed to simulate the taste of cultured butter, the product produced is not cultured but is instead flavored.
Dairy products are often pasteurized during production to kill pathogenic bacteria and other microbes. Butter made from pasteurized fresh cream is called sweet cream butter. Production of sweet cream butter first became common in the 19th century, with the development of refrigeration and the mechanical cream separator. Butter made from fresh or cultured unpasteurized cream is called raw cream butter. While butter made from pasteurized cream may keep for several months, raw cream butter has a shelf life of roughly ten days.
Throughout continental Europe, cultured butter is preferred, while sweet cream butter dominates in the United States and the United Kingdom. Therefore, cultured butter is sometimes labeled "European-style" butter in the United States. Commercial raw cream butter is virtually unheard-of in the United States. Raw cream butter is generally only found made at home by consumers who have purchased raw whole milk directly from dairy farmers, skimmed the cream themselves, and made butter with it. It is rare in Europe as well.
Several "spreadable" butters have been developed; these remain softer at colder temperatures and are therefore easier to use directly out of refrigeration. Some modify the makeup of the butter's fat through chemical manipulation of the finished product, some through manipulation of the cattle's feed, and some by incorporating vegetable oils into the butter. "Whipped" butter, another product designed to be more spreadable, is aerated via the incorporation of nitrogen gas—normal air is not used, because doing so would encourage oxidation and rancidity.
All categories of butter are sold in both salted and unsalted forms. Either granular salt or a strong brine are added to salted butter during processing. In addition to enhanced flavor, the addition of salt acts as a preservative.
The amount of butterfat in the finished product is a vital aspect of production. In the United States, products sold as "butter" are required to contain a minimum of 80% butterfat; in practice, most American butters contain only slightly more than that, averaging around 81% butterfat. European butters generally have a higher ratio, which may extend up to 85%.
Clarified butter is butter with almost all of its water and milk solids removed, leaving almost-pure butterfat. Clarified butter is made by heating butter to its melting point and then allowing it to cool; after settling, the remaining components separate by density. At the top, whey proteins form a skin which is removed, and the resulting butterfat is then poured off from the mixture of water and casein proteins that settle to the bottom.
Ghee is clarified butter which is brought to higher temperatures of around 120 °C (250 °F) once the water has cooked off, allowing the milk solids to brown. This process flavors the ghee, and also produces antioxidants which help protect it longer from rancidity. Because of this, ghee can keep for six to eight months under normal conditions.
Cream may be skimmed from whey instead of milk, as a byproduct of cheese-making. Whey butter may be made from whey cream. Whey cream and butter have a lower fat content and taste more salty, tangy and "cheesy". They are also cheaper than "sweet" cream and butter.
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