New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Simple Rules in Butter Making

leave a comment »


A blog post by

I am thinking of a time when the ‘great mechanical blessings’ of industry, and new scientific discoveries, were seen as tools for social change.

This notion was international. The pursuit of science, at least, can be seen in the male character in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Compulsive in his collection of fossils, he is convinced that he might be able to achieve discoveries on a par with Charles Darwin. And, in other novels, characters write tracts and pamphlets on how to grow more abundant wheat – and just about every other subject whether useful or not. The principle was that progress was possible through change and that tomorrow could be better than yesterday.

These radical ideas became a moral philosophy. Public institutions of all sorts strove to contribute to the public good. The idea of a social gospel was taking root and prohibition was on the horizon.

Agricultural societies were thriving at this time, and with the same moral objective: to uplift humanity through science and industry. New Brunswick was no exception and there were many agricultural societies and other examples of social idealism. Agriculture certainly needed help. The subject of this blog post is butter-making. Butter was of a notoriously poor quality in the 1880s. It was often putrid smelly stuff, hardly worth buying.

So, in 1883, New Brunswick’s agricultural societies filed their regular annual reports with the Provincial Assembly. The reports were an obligation in return for the tiny subsidies that they received and were often written without much enthusiasm. In one case, however, a society was impressed enough with a presentation on proper butter-making that they submitted a copy of it with their report as an attachment.

This document outlines what was missing in the butter making technology of the day, by contrasting it with what was necessary. It is no surprise to us that fresh ingredients, clean conditions, temperature control and attention to detail were required and, by implication, these were largely missing from processes of the time.

Following is the paper:


As Recommended by Professor Sheldon, of the College of Agriculture, Downton, Salisbury, England, and Demonstrated by Him at the Working Dairy in the Centennial Show, St. John, N.B., October, 1883

It appears to me that good butter can be made almost anywhere by almost any person, provided natural facilities are at hand, proper utensils are provided, and ordinary attention is paid to the details of the process. I do not say that the finest butter can thus be produced at ease, for to specially excel seems to be the reward of genius in butter making as in everything else; but good butter, butter that will win approval wherever it goes can certainly be produced where now only an inferior article appears, if due care be taken. And I may say, further, that the volume of care required is not by any means difficult to learn or irksome to practice, but that, on the contrary, it is just a simple and easy as the careless ways of unsuccessful people. Butter has to be made somehow, by everyone who makes it, and the difference in the “how” makes all the difference in the butter. Bearing in mind that the work has to be done, it is well to remember that everything that is worth doing at all is worth doing well, and specially is this true when to do it well is just as easy as to do it badly, and far more satisfactory.

It is a slight on good milk that bad butter should be made of it; it is an insult, too, to the cow that gives the milk – the cow that has done her part of the contract well; it is anything but complimentary to the public who are invited to eat the butter, as if to say that they have no such thing as delicacy of taste; it is, also, anything but creditable to any one to turn out such stuff, and a loss to the producer as well as to the consumer. Many butter-makers wonder how it is that they realize poor prices for the butter they have to sell; yet it is at the same time true that the public never object to pay good prices for a good article.

The best butter-makers in America command 70 to 100 cents a pound all the year round; the worst of them are down to the ‘teens, or in the twenties at most; and the difference is the reward of the careful man, or the careful woman as the case may be.

The first thing to do is to take proper care of the milk. Assuming that it is cleanly taken from the cow into a clean pail, it should be put into clean pans, in a clean room, whose temperature should not vary beyond reasonable limits the year round, say from 50 degrees to 70 degrees. The room should be clean, I say, and it should be outside the influence of impure odors; the last because milk absorbs such odors and reproduces them in the butter. I may mention here that the cows should have food which does not communicate and unpleasant taint to the milk they give; should there be any such taint in the milk or odor in the room, a pinch of saltpetre in the milk will go far to checkmate them. But in any case, taint or no taint, odor or no odor, it is of the first importance that the milk rooms should be kept clean, should be lime-washed occasionally to sweeten them, and should be swilled tolerably often to remove dirt and other “matter out of place” from the floors. The utensils should be scalded each time after being used for milk, scalded with boiling water, rinsed with a solution of soda, and afterwards with clean, pure water. The room should be well ventilated, and only with pure air, and the windows should be screened so that no strong ray of light shall fall on the milk – this last because light develops the fermentation organisms which lead to the chemical decomposition of milk. Thus in milk-rooms cleanliness, ventilation, and regulation of light, are matters of importance.

The foregoing paragraph refers to dairies in which the centrifugal cream-separator has not yet found a place, and to the shallow-pan system of milk-setting particularly. To the deep-can system, and specially to the Cooley system; they refer only generally, as I would have them refer to any dairy whatsoever. I may say here that the best butter may be made on any of the three systems of cream-raising – the shallow pan, the deep can or the Cooley, and the centrifugal separator – providing care and intelligence are employed. Annexed are cuts of the Cooley cooler (p. 180) and the centrifugal-separator [the figures were not included in the report to the Assembly, ed.]. The Separator is, of course, adapted only to large dairies of fifty cows or so, or to creameries; and it requires either steam or water as the motive power. A horse will drive it, and I have seen one drive it, but a horse is not to be depended on for a steady, sustained and regular supply of power. The chief advantages of the Separator are that the cream can be got from the milk while both are new and sweet, that less of it is left in, and that fewer utensils are required in the dairy. Perfectly fresh butter from perfectly new milk may be thus obtained, if desirable; but the best authorities now consider that we get better butter from cream that has had time to mellow and ripen, rather than from fresh cream, because the latter is more or less insipid. But in any case, cream should be skimmed while it is quite sweet, and, no matter how long it is kept before churning, it should no be allowed to go sour. To let cream go sour is to injure the flavor and quality of butter, if not to diminish its quantity. To churn it while it is too young, as one may say, is to produce a pure flavored but almost tasteless butter; yet will such butter improve in flavor by keeping, though the flavor is better secured by keeping the cream to ripen – keeping at a temperature of 50 to 52 degrees, putting in a bit of saltpetre or glacialine to prevent acidity, and stirring once or twice a day to have it all exposed to the air, and to prevent the formation of a crust on the surface. Glazed earthenware crocks are as good as anything to keep cream between skimming and churning; while pans of the same material, or the seamless ones of enameled iron answer well for milk-setting.

Of churns there is a great variety, but I have found none better, or easier to keep clean, than the improved barrel churn, of which an illustration is herewith given. There is also another churn, called the “Victoria,” an end-over-end churn, which has no blades inside, and, by opening at the end, affords great facility for taking out the butter, as well as for seeing that the interior is perfectly clean. I do not say that those churns are better than any other, but I do say that they are good enough for anybody, and that the finest butter can be made in them.

Assuming that the cream has remained free or sourness during the time it has been kept for ripening, and that it is not more than a week old, I may say that the principle of acidity, artificially introduced when the cream is put into the churn, will be found to do good in helping the cream to relinquish its butter, and in making the butter firmer in body and brighter in tint. And this is attained by adding to the cream about five percent of its volume of sour butter-milk from the previous churning. The cream of different days should be all mixed together an hour or two before churning, so that it may all be old alike, as it were. Fifty-seven to sixty degrees Fahrenheit is the normal temperature which is best to have the cream when it is being churned, but it may well vary from 55 to 65 degrees, according to the time of the year and the temperature of the room. These points set right, the churning should be done at a regular speed which is slowest at the start.

When the butter is forming in the churn, and resembles grains of mustard seed, which are just beginning to coalesce together, it is a good thing to drain the buttermilk out of the churn through a fine sieve, and to pour in clean, cold water; the churn should then have a few turns, the water be taken out of the churn as the buttermilk was, and fresh water put in; this process should be repeated several times, until the water comes clear of buttermilk out of the churn. This system of washing buttermilk out of the butter may be regarded as the simplest and most effectual that can be adopted; and as it is of the utmost importance to the keeping quality of the butter that all of the buttermilk should be got out of it, so it is necessary that it should be carefully be got rid of. Butter that is ridded of its buttermilk, which to a great extent is composed of caseine – nitrogenous matter which is addicted to early decay – will keep well for some time; provided the other preliminaries I have mentioned have been properly attended to.

The butter, well washed in the way described, requires little or no purification from buttermilk after it is taken from the churn, simply because there is little or no buttermilk left in it. But it requires to be worked in order to compress and consolidate it, to compact into a solid and coherent body, and to mix with it the proportion of salt which is thought to be desirable. If, however, the butter has not been well washed, or has only been partially washed, inside the churn, it may be washed outside of that machine; for this purpose, as well as for compacting the butter, and for mixing the salt with it it is always desirable to use a butter-worker, and not to touch the butter with the hand; The butter-worker, properly used, does its work much better than the hand; it does not soften the butter as the hand does, and it does less injury to its grains and texture – matters which are of no little importance to the appearance of the butter. During the process of working the butter, pressure, not friction, should be employed, for friction injures the grains of the butter. The quantity of salt to be used will be governed by taste, and by the length of time the butter has to be kept, but it will vary from one to five percent of the weight of the butter.

The points, then, to be attended to in butter making are these: cleanliness, temperature, and regularity in the performance of details; especially with regard to washing the butter in the churn.


Written by johnwood1946

February 15, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: