Dairy cows. Submitted photo

How interesting can butter be? It’s a blob of yellow dairy product made from separating the water and milk in cream from the fat and protein. That’s the Wikipedia definition. My definition is quality butter is a delicious taste of Heaven that enhances nearly any food. For the last 10 years, I have made my own. Two weeks ago, due to a shortage of cream at my local farm, I bought commercially made butter. My timing could not have been worse.

To my surprise, when I left out the unopened package of butter for two days, it didn’t soften. During the winter, my home is a balmy 68 degrees. Undoubtedly warm enough to soften butter! I set it in the warm sunshine and left it for a couple of hours. There was no significant change. I left it longer. Instead of softening, one corner of the butter block melted into a liquid mess while the rest of it stayed intact.

The other thing about this butter is the texture was rubbery. I was perplexed and unimpressed. Before my butter-making days commenced, I knew this butter to be tasty and perfect in every way that matters.

The answer to my situation is complicated and influenced by the COVID pandemic. The pandemic initially forced a decrease in dairy production as schools and other institutions reduced their orders. Farmers culled their herds rather than dump milk. However, since last August, pandemic bakers have progressed from baking bread to baking all kinds of baked goods, thus creating a demand for butter. Both situations made for a perfect storm.

When demand increased for cream, farmers had to produce more with fewer cows. Some chose to increase production by feeding their cows a high-calorie diet supplemented by palmitic acid (palm oil) According to Joe Mans, owner of Vital Green Farms in Canada, this boosts butterfat significantly by two – to three-tenths of a percent. Due to unsustainable harvesting that causes increased deforestation, palm oil is cheap and plentiful. However, palm oil passed through the cows, changes texture and performance of dairy products.

David Christiansen, a scientist emeritus at the University of Saskatchewan, published a study in March 2019, showing that palmitic acid, classified as a bypass fat, results in about 35 percent of this fat consumption to appear in the milk. When the cream portion is made into butter or cheese, this level decreases its melting point and changes its texture.

In some ways, more product produced by fewer cows reduces the dairy carbon footprint, but using palm oil creates more deforestation. Maybe instead we should reduce consumption. Now is the time to make changes in the labeling of dairy products to reflect ingredients passed from cows to consumers, as well as address texture, taste, production, and additives. Allow informed, conscientious buying to decide the marketplace.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: