Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chris Judd

What’s in the butter?

I often get asked a question that relates to agriculture. Last week I was asked “do they add palm oil to the butter to make it hard?” My quick answer; “butter is guaranteed to contain only milk fat, a little salt (or no salt if it’s salt free) and maybe a little yellow food colouring, depending on the time of year and what the milk cows eat”. Consumer demand changes from time to time. For several years consumers thought that butter was higher in cholesterol than margarine. Then scientists and doctors agreed that there were two kinds of cholesterol, the type found in butter could be digested or dispersed by the body but the type in margarine built up in your body and stuck around.
Consumers reduced margarine consumption while butter consumption increased. Dairy farmers were advised to reduce protein (which turns into skim milk powder when the butter is churned off), and they were also encouraged to increase the fat content in the milk. The feed nutritionists and feed mills quickly began adding expensive fat to the ration. This extra fat gave the cow a chance to produce higher fat milk.
There are four types of fat. Vegetable fat: Corn, soybean, and canola are the least expensive and they are also in the cow’s grain ration. Used frier oil used at kitchens and chip wagons are cheap.
Animal fat: white grease is hog fat from the hog abattoirs, yellow grease comes from the poultry plants, and tallow comes from beef abattoirs. Palm oil comes from the palm tree.
Inert fat is man made. Fat is the most expensive additive to the ration. Farmers soon figured out that by increasing the fibre (hay, haylage, and corn silage), in the ration and reducing the grain or dairy ration could not only increase the fat content, but also reduce to cost of the ration. This can only be achieved by feeding very digestible forage. Hay or haylage must be cut before flowering occurs (three or four cuts per year) and corn silage must be cut at optimal time to get both cob and stalks at best digestibility and shredder rolls used in the harvester. This attention to detail in harvesting adds some expense but increasing the digestible fiber leads to a healthier milk cow.
SO, why is the butter harder? In an attempt to produce better quality milk, the milk is cooled down very quickly to three degrees Celcius and agitation throughout the milking process reduces the size of the fat globules in the milk. This milk agitation is done automatically until the milk is picked up by the bulk tanker which trucks it to the dairy.
Farms that use robotic milkers can cool milk even faster than older dairy farms. Yes, a few dairy farms still use some added fat, maybe palm oil, but that is not the most profitable way. We have always used butter at the houses at our farm but now we can leave the butter in the butter dish on the table and not keep it in the fridge. I don’t know what changes have been made at the milk plants that process butter.
When farm wives made their own butter on the farm, they always worked the butter before packing it into pound packages. Working the butter not only squeezed out the water, but also made the butter smooth so it spread easier. Some dairies have introduced a more spreadable butter, but don’t let their secret out.
Have a very safe and happy holiday season with your friends and family. Remember to call or visit your neighbour who is alone this Christmas.

Chris Judd is a farmer in
Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.

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