Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Usually when you hear that expression, the speaker is trying to describe something silky smooth... perfectly creamy... in other words; just right.
But something is certainly not right when Israeli supermarkets from Metulla to Eilat have all kinds of butter substitutes (margarine, oil spreads, etc.), ... but no real butter on the shelves!
As many of you already know, Israel is currently experiencing its worst butter shortage in the history of the state. The reason? Well, chalk it up to global warming (or whatever you blame for the unseasonably warm weather we've been experiencing).
Having milked my share of cows in both winter and summer when I was younger, I know that our bovine friends give much less milk fat when it's hot out than when it's cold. That's just they way they're built.
Another excuse floated by the dairy insustry is that the increased demand for dairy products has forced them to stretch their milk supply over a larger quantity of products; most of which require some milkfat. Whatever you believe... if you're in Israel, you aren't buying butter for your buiscuits any time soon.
Usually this wouldn't be a problem for our little country, since many people are trending towards 'healthier' low-fat dairy products. In fact, butter represents less than 2% of Israel's huge diary industry. And in a normal year, there would be a surplus of butter rather than a shortage.
But this isn't a normal year.
As I mentioned earlier, I haven't seen a bar of butter in the stores for at least three weeks. And for a host of reasons, it doesn't look like they'll be getting any in the near future.
This is partly due to the kosher side of the equation. The obvious thing to do (at least from a supply & demand standpoint) would be to import butter from Europe. But the various dairy companies in Israel are reluctant to do this because they would risk their kosher certification; something that is based heavily on their exclusive use of 'Chalav Yisrael' (literally Jewish Milk... but more correctly, milk that is certified by a reliable Jew to have not come from any non-kosher animal).
This may sound silly to some, but once you have a big tank of milk, there is no way of knowing if it all came from cows, or if some milk has been added from another kind of animal in order to boost the milk fat content (for which dairy farmers get paid a premium).
Another contributing factor to the slow response to the shortage is the typical Israeli assumption that 'yihiyeh b'seder... zeh ya'avor' (everything will be ok... it will pass). This mindset has helped Israel through decades of shortages and austerity, but is a powerful inertial force that often keeps people from acting quickly to avert a crisis.
I decided that I wasn't willing to wait until the weather changes and/or the dairy industry gets its collective shinola together.
So the other evening I made a nice big batch of fresh butter. No, not 'like buttah'... the real thing.
Anyone who has ever over-whipped home-made whipped cream knows how easy it is to accidentally make butter. But in case you want the full instructions, here's how it works:
Start with a pint or two of whipping cream (at least 35-38% milk fat).
Let the cream come to room temperature. If you have a chilly house, you might want to warm your kitchen a little bit by turning on the oven for a little while with the oven door ajar.
Once you have your cream at room temp, pour it into the big mixing bowl of your food processor (I'm assuming you don't have a butter churn handy).
[Junior scientist note: Theoretically you could use the 'jar method' (basically you put the cream in a big closed jar and shake it constantly for half an hour or so). But unless you have arms and shoulders like a body builder, this will not be much fun.]
You can start out with the whisk attachment for the first few minutes to get things started... but at some point around when it starts to look a little like whipped cream, you'll want to switch over to a beater (like the 'k' tool on the Kenwood kitchen centers). Trust me.
The reason for this switch is that once the butterfat starts to clump together (as it will seconds after the whipped cream stage), things will start to happen very quickly, and the whisk attachment will start tossing viscous liquid all over your nice clean kitchen. Don't ask me how I know this.
After the whipped cream stage, you will start to see small particles of butter floating around ... and as they pick up more butterfat, the clumps will get bigger and bigger.
At the same time, the portion of the mix that isn't turning into butter is getting thinner and thinner. This is the buttermilk.
Once the butter is pretty thick and you see thin buttermilk starting to pool around the edges of the mix, pour the buttermilk off into another bowl. Keep mixing (and occasionally pouring off the butter milk) for a few more minutes until you have a lumpy, mass of what looks like whipped butter.
Don't worry that it isn't bright yellow like the butter you buy at the store. Yours will be off-white. If you really need that store-bought yellow color, add a drop of yellow food coloring. Silly, if you ask me.
Put your buttermilk in the fridge for baking use later (Zahava makes great buttermilk scones), or enjoy it as a yummy treat on ice while you finish off making your butter.
Get a big pitcher of icy cold water and slosh a good amount into your mixing bowl along with your butter. The reason you want it veeeery cold is to make sure it doesn't melt your butter.
This stage is called 'washing the butter'. Mix the butter with the cold water for a few seconds and then spill the water out into the sink. Then do it a few more times.
The first couple of times you wash the butter the liquid you pour off will be cloudy. This is the last of the buttermilk being washed out of the butter. After a few more times, the liquid being poured off will be clear. This means you're done.
The reason you wash the butter is because if you aren't planning on consuming the butter immediately (tempting, I know!), the buttermilk will quickly allow the butter to turn rancid.
Now that you have a mixing bowl full of butter, you have a few decision to make.
1. Do you want salted or unsalted butter? If you want salted butter, sprinkle a little salt (don't overdo it!) over the butter and mix a bit more with whatever you've been using to churn the butter. If you find it is too salty, you can always wash it once more with ice cold water to remove some of the salt.
2. What form do you want the butter to be in? Once upon a time, most kitchens had a few butter molds laying around for this task... but unless you're an antique collector, those days are long gone.
You can either use crème brulée ramekins (please don't tell me you don't have crème brulée ramekins!), or muffin tins to form your butter. You can also use little honey jars as butter crocks. Whatever you decide to use, just spoon it in and push it into the mold using the back of the spoon.
Once all the butter is in the molds, put it in the refrigerator for an hour or two and it will harden.
Now that you have fresh butter, enjoy it as you normally would.
Oh, and if you live in Israel... don't forget to bring a gift of fresh butter to your friends and neighbors. Unless they were raised on a kibbutz (as my neighbors were) they'll think you are a magician! And another thing... if you've been trying to think of a fun project to do with young kids while they're off for Hannukah... this really is magic!
And as a bonus... when you have grandkids, you can tell them that when you were younger, things were so bad, you couldn't buy butter in the store... you had to make your own!!!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
[veteran butter makers, please feel free to add your pro tips in the comments section]
Posted by David Bogner on November 30, 2010 | Permalink
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Wow. Thanks for clearing that up for me. We don't use a lot of butter, but we watched a movie on motzei Shabbat and I melted whatever butter we had in the house to pour on the popcorn. I've been trying to buy more since then and couldn't figure out why I couldn't find any. A butter shortage. Almost makes me feel like one of those old time chalutzim that had to deal with food rationing and stuff back in the 40's and 50's.
Also, I found this doughnut recipe I wanted to try on Chanukah that uses both butter and buttermilk so I guess this is what I'll be doing on Wednesday. Talk about making something from scratch. Next thing you know I'll be milking my own cows too.
Posted by: Mona | Nov 30, 2010 10:41:34 AM
Don't dump out that buttermilk. You can make homemade ricotta out of it.
Posted by: Morey Altman | Nov 30, 2010 12:43:38 PM
Excellent! I was just telling my roommate that we should make our own butter. (Her response: "By 'we' I assume you mean 'you.'") :-)
By the way, how did YOU learn to do this?
Posted by: Sarah | Nov 30, 2010 1:22:52 PM
I'm really glad you confirmed this, my roommates and I had been told 'the cows went on strike' when we wondered where the butter went, but since none of us are fluent in Hebrew yet, we didn't know where to get the information from. I've also started making my own butter, but I use a hand-mixer instead of a food processor (dorm living). Just wanted to mention, you can just hold the butter in your hands while holding it under slow-running cold water, instead of swishing the butter around with water in a bowl.
My roommates and I have started making flavored butter now. The basil/garlic recipe here: http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/cheese/butter/flavored-butter-recipes.asp#herb was popular, and I've tried a variation of the cinnamon butter recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/cinnamon-butter-66308. I didn't have enough butter at the time to use the whole recipe, so I just dumped a couple teaspoons of the sugars and cinnamon into what I had and mixed. It's hard to go wrong with sugar and cinnamon, and it was really good. :)
Posted by: Angela | Nov 30, 2010 1:24:47 PM
I have to try this!
What speed setting do you run the food processor at?
And what are we going to do when the whipping cream shortage kicks in, which I assume is only a matter of time if the cows are giving lower-fat milk?
Posted by: Simon | Nov 30, 2010 1:28:17 PM
Mona... Yes indeed, you can now tell future friends and family of how austere 'the good old days' were here in Israel. :-)
Morey Altman ... Unless you are making a huge amount of butter, there isn't going to be all that much buttermilk. My two pints of cream yielded a nice half glass of buttermilk.
Sarah ... I worked in the refet (dairy barn) of kibbutz Rosh Tzurim back in the early 80s milking and feeding (and of course, cleaning up after) cows. One of the perks was having access to the heavy cream that would be left at the bottom of the holding tanks after the Tnuva truck came to take away the milk. We made cheese cakes, whipped cream, butter... you name it.
Angela... happy to help. I've actually been surprised by how little chatter there is in the Israeli blogosphere about this butter shortage. Oh, and thanks for the tips.
Simon... You can start out fairly fast to get to the 'whipped cream' stage... but from there, put it on one of the lowest settings or you will make a big mess once the butter starts to clump together.
Posted by: treppenwitz | Nov 30, 2010 2:12:55 PM
"He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse evil and choose the good."
Posted by: Maureen | Nov 30, 2010 5:20:07 PM
In case you like limericks, you might like this, from my bedside volume of Ogden Nash.
There was an old man of Calcutta
Who coated his tonsils with buttah
Thus converting his snore
From a thunderous roar
To a soft, oleaginous muttah
Posted by: Barzilai | Nov 30, 2010 7:09:45 PM
We have plenty of butter in NZ, but I can't afford to buy it (it is around US$4.50 a pound). I also prefer the white, not tampered with version, so thanks for telling me how to make it YAY!
Barzilai - great limerick!
Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Nov 30, 2010 8:10:47 PM
We did the "jar method" when I was about 7, in Girl Scouts. It's not too hard to shake it for half an hour if you have a bunch of overactive children who can take turns doing the shaking! And obviously, it was memorable.
Maybe next time you can make it a family endeavor...
Posted by: Tzipporah | Nov 30, 2010 8:41:32 PM
The usual production allocations for dairy farms have been lifted, so hopefully there will be more milk in the system soon, and if we ever get any cold weather, that will help too. We have just today upped our herd to 400 head.
Go easy on the butter though folks; it's not so healthy!
Posted by: Israelinurse | Nov 30, 2010 9:00:05 PM
I cannot eat a buttered saltine without thinking of the time we made butter in third grade - possibly my first Culinary Adventure - fifty years ago.
We used, if I recall correctly, an hand-cranked eggbeater in lieu of a whisk. It got the job done... and that butter was delicious.
Posted by: Elisson | Dec 1, 2010 1:51:09 AM
clearly i am simply feeling the nostalgic-ness of the holiday season. because now i want to make butter.
and believe me, there is no butter shortage at the super stop-n-shop down the street.
Posted by: weese | Dec 1, 2010 4:56:22 AM
Hey, does it work the same for peanut butter? I mean, if you shake a jar of peanuts up and down for half an hour....oh, never mind...
Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Dec 1, 2010 5:45:59 AM
David - I worked in the refet (dairy barn) of kibbutz Rosh Tzurim back in the early 80s
Hey, I worked on Rosh Tzurim during the war in 1982! Great place. I worked in the kiwi fields, the cherries (best cash crop at the time), the walnuts, and collected the dead turkeys from the lulim to feed to the [nasty] guard dogs. Once we picked a god-awful number of peaches.
Elisson, I also made butter once with a hand cranked egg beater. It was supposed to be whipped cream, but I got carried away :-)
Posted by: Mark | Dec 1, 2010 6:10:52 AM
I keep hearing about the butter shortage from Israeli-Anglo blogs but as I'm not a great butter consumer I hadn't really noticed.
But freshly made butter is delicious - I remember from making it by the jar method on one of my children's school trips - so I will be making good use of this technique (of course I have creme brulee ramekins!)
This reminds me of the British Bakers' strike in the 1970s. My grandmother made bread for all the neighbours and they paid her in flour and yeast.
Posted by: Esther | Dec 1, 2010 7:02:05 AM
Mark - I volunteered in the same refet in the 90's!
Bryan gave you the highest praise he said the butter tasted creamier than Lurpak. And as I sit her this very moment enjoying it on toast, I am inclined to concur. Very fresh tasting!
Posted by: Noa | Dec 1, 2010 2:48:20 PM
I went the manual route and the results are excellent. Thank you David!
Some implementation notes:
Arm yourself in advance with
* hand-cranked egg beater
* large whisk
* large wooden spoon
* flat plastic scraper
Start with the hand cranked egg beater until you have thick whipped cream in the bowl. Use the plastic scraper at intervals to scrape off the sides of the bowl.
When it gets really thick the beater will clog up and the cream will stop circulating. Start using the large whisk.
Quite soon the same thing will happen with the whisk. Start using the wooden spoon.
The first stage takes quite a long time, but don't give up. The last stages are very fast.
It's a good idea to have a team of two people taking turns beating and holding the bowl steady.
I'm off to search for recipes to use up all this buttermilk.
Posted by: Simon | Dec 1, 2010 9:36:42 PM
I am not sure whether you can't find European butter at all or whether it is not certified. In case you do find some French butter in Israeli stores, you may find it interesting to know that all French butters that have the mention "extra fin" are authorized by the French Bet Din (Orthodox, of course).
Because I travel a bit, I often check other countries' kosher lists.
Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Dec 2, 2010 11:41:40 PM
I actually had my kids do the jar method once while I was trying to occupy them on a fast day - and got to enjoy the results with them later post-fast. We didn't wash the butter, but then again, it went really quickly. Would love to try a more involved take on the project - thank you for the guidelines!
Posted by: RaggedyMom | Dec 3, 2010 4:12:06 AM
I was wondering if a stick blender would be good to use, since I have a dairy stick blender but only a pareve mixer.
In a completely unrelated note, I seem to remember that you posted about a year ago or so about buying a new mattress. My husband and I are in the market for a new one and I remember you raving about yours so I was wondering which one you got.
Posted by: Devo K | Dec 19, 2010 3:42:07 PM