Favorite Ingredient: Cultured Raw Butter

This post is not about the pros and cons of consuming raw milk products. If you're interested in that debate, you can check out the raw milk post over at Re-Nest. This post is dedicated to how utterly delicious raw butter is, especially cultured raw butter. Read on for more information about raw butter and the story of my raw butter shortbread cookie experiment.

First, what is raw butter? Raw butter is made from raw cream, or cream that has not been pasteurized. Many people believe that pasteurization kills not only the beneficial enzymes and nutrients but dulls flavor of the cream and the things you make from it like butter, cheese, yogurt.

What is raw cultured butter? For cultured butter, the raw cream is inoculated with Flora Danica cultures and left to culture before it is churned into cream. In the past, the cream used for making butter was often cultured first in order to help preserve the butter for a longer period of time. Health proponents say that culturing also enhances nutritional benefits by introducing beneficial enzymes into the product.

To my palate, cultured raw butter has a more elaborate flavor profile than regular sweet cream butter or even regular cultured (not not raw) butter. There's a depth of flavor, a more buttery butterness to it that is very appealing, complex and somehow more savory than usual butter. It has a nice tang and a bit of grassiness, too. In comparison, sweet cream butter has a single note taste, almost flat and waxy.

Admittedly, it's a somewhat subtle difference and because cultured raw butter is expensive ($12.99 a pound in San Francisco) I only use it where the taste of the butter is a primary flavor, such as on butter and radish sandwiches, or gently heated to pour over popcorn. (Note: In order to preserve the 'rawness' of raw butter, it should not be heated over 110 degrees.) But I began to wonder if it made a difference in baked goods. Would the delicious flavors be compromised if heated in a 325 degree oven? I decided to investigate.

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I chose a simple butter shortbread cookie so that the butter flavor would not be hidden by other ingredients. I made two doughs one after the other, one with cultured raw butter and one with organic sweet cream butter, using the same flour, sugar, etc and the same equipment, and baked them in the same oven for the same period of time. (Yes, I was enjoying my Cook's Illustrated moment.)

Appearance: Very similar in color. The regular butter cookie was more puffed up than the raw butter one.

Texture: Again, very similar. The regular butter cookie was perhaps a little softer.

Taste: I could definitely taste the difference. The complexity of the raw butter did come through. The regular cookies had a sweeter, smoother taste while the raw butter cookies carried a hint of the savory, almost cheesy raw butter flavor. I'm not sure that the taste difference was that dramatic, however. The raw butter cookie didn't blow me away with it's uniqueness.

Conclusion: Strictly from a flavor point of view, I would save the raw butter for those really important butter moments. It's just too expensive to use on a daily basis. (The manufacturers recommend freezing the butter to be sure it lasts and I plan on doing just that.) If it were closer to the price of regular organic butter, I would not hesitate to slather it on every edible surface in my kitchen and then some.

Note: The butter I used was Cultured Raw Butter from Organic Pastures Dairy Company in California. I purchased it at Rainbow Foods in San Francisco, but it can also be found in many stores throughout California. To find one near you, go to the website's store search feature. The website also features a nice article on how the butter is made. Raw milk products are sometimes hard to find, as laws vary from state to state. It is illegal to ship raw milk and raw milk products over state lines unless you are purchasing that item for a pet. (Snort.)

Related: Word of Mouth: Clabber

(Images: Dana Velden)

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