Is Butter, Is Not Butter

Ever wonder how something like cream, especially clotted cream, can have so much darn butterfat yet not have the taste, texture, or properties of butter? I mean, really well made clotted cream can contain 70% butterfat. If some butters are 87% butterfat, why doesn’t clotted cream look like butter, melt like butter, or taste greasy on your tongue when it’s warm like butter?

You may recall from last week’s short post on whipped cream that butterfat globules (small squishy blobs of fat inside thin protein membranes) are delicate things. So much so that even on a mirco level, it’s easy to smack’em around. When you do so, pieces start to come off of them, exposing their naked fat to the watery matrix of milk. Fat and water don’t get along, which gives the bare patches of fat just two options: adhere to an air bubble, or adhere to the exposed portion of another messed up fat globule. The former action produces whipped cream. The latter, butter.

This is what the age-old butter churning process is all about: using a big wood paddle (I can’t help but think of granny from the Beverly Hillbillies when I imagine this) to whack fat blobs until they break up, bond to each other, and form one giant mass of fat: butter. Of course there’s always still a little bit of water left in there, trapped among the huge fat slabs, somewhere in the vicinity of 8-12% of the total mass.

Cream, even clotted cream, is a different micro-animal altogether. Cream’s fat molecules haven’t been broken, they’ve simply risen and accumulated until they’re densely packed. In between them are tiny water drops that keep the whole matrix lubricated and flowing. This is what gives cream its signature rich-but-not-fatty mouthfeel. Unlike butter with its giant coagulatated fat masses, cream’s butterfat blobs are so small, they don’t register as fat on our tongues. True, the process of “clotting” cream does cause some fat blobs to combine with one another, yet by and large the masses they form are still too small to be identified as “fat” in the same sense of animal fat or butter. Which is why it all goes down so darn easy.

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