Large-Scale Butter Making

Readers Sandra asks if all butter is still made in the way I described a couple of posts below. In fact, no. These days the starting point for most commercial butter isn’t cream, it’s leftover whey from the cheese making process. Whey still has milk fat left in it that didn’t coalesce into cheese curds, and whereas the amount of fat in liquid whey would have been far too little for creameries of old to reclaim efficiently, today centrifuges spin it out in minutes. Sure, it’s an “industrial” process, but it keeps all that milk fat from going to waste, and that seems like a good thing to me.

11 thoughts on “Large-Scale Butter Making”

  1. I don’t think that’s how we make butter in New Zealand. All the butter packets here list the ingredients as “cream, salt, water”. Not only that, but the packet of butter I have in the fridge at the moment (made by a Fonterra brand, as most of our dairy is) specifically says “we churn cream with sea salt”, and they couldn’t say that if they didn’t do it or they’d be liable for enormous fines.

    1. You’re probably right about that. It might be a predominately an American thing.

    2. One thing I’ve learned, sadly, from the food industry is that they never lie, they just never tell the truth.

      Yes, they most likely churn cream with sea salt, but what they don’t tell you is if it’s just cream and sea salt. As long as they use a small part cream and small part sea salt nothing stops them from using mostly what joe describes.

      Being even more cynical one could say “we churn cream with sea salt” is not specifical at all. That could mean that they are doing that on their holidays… I’m sorry, as long as it doesn’t read “THIS product contains ONLY cream and sea salt” I wouldn’t believe it.

      Don’t expect companies being fined for it either, I’ve never heard of any company having to pay any substantial sums for not being truthful…

      1. I don’t know, our laws are a lot stricter in this regard than American ones. The makers of Ribena were fined something like a quarter of a million dollars for misleading advertising with respect to their claims of vitamin C content. They tried to wriggle out of it by saying the vitamin C was referring to the amount in the fruit, but that didn’t wash. In New Zealand we do have to have ALL the ingredients of a product listed on the pack, and cream, salt and water are what’s listed. I think we’re more likely to use our whey for making ricotta and whey powder. Dairying in New Zealand is a whole different thing to dairying in America. Thank goodness.

  2. It seems to me that if the milk fat (cream) is spun out of the whey and then churned into butter, they are doing what they claim. There is nothing disingenuous in the claim that they churned cream and salt to get butter. They do not say HOW they got the cream.

  3. Oh, I’m not from America, I’m European. We have very strict rules also. Everything that a product contains has to be stated on the package. This is done in small print, nobody reads it.

    Read Eds comment, it pretty much sums up what I was talking about.

  4. I live in Iowa and I checked the butter in my ‘fridge. It claims to be sweet cream butter and list ingredients as cream and salt. Maybe butter in processed foods is made from whey, but most of the butter you buy in sticks in the US is sweet cream butter.

    1. Hey Eric! Thanks for the email! To your point, the issue isn’t whether the butter is “sweet cream” or “cultured”, but where the milk fat comes from in the first place. Often it’s spun out of whey, collected and used to make butter. That doesn’t make it bad in any way. In fact I think of it as a sort of recycling, a way of reclaiming something that would otherwise go to waste. Just because the process employs a machine, it doesn’t make the finished product any less wholesome than butter produced by other means.

      Cheers and thanks!

      – Joe

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