Butter is back
It was dinnertime at my uncles in Istanbul and I had just arrived from Sweden. We were almost done with the food when my cousin and uncle ran to the kitchen. They returned to the table holding five different types of butter.
There were two types of cow butter, one made out of goat and two mixed with goat, sheep and cow in various ratios. All of them where pretty different from each other but they shared one common thing. They were cultured.
Either they were let to sour on their own or made out of yoghurt. This style is called yayik. Traditionally it is made by shaking yoghurt, either in wood-barrels or skin-bags hanging from trees. Nowadays they use machines for this process. After the buttermilk and the fat are separated, it is washed and made into butter. The buttermilk that is left is called ayran but mostly known to produced with yoghurt, water and salt.
Yayik butter is rare nowadays and when my mom was a child in the 50´s and 60´s it was only offered to the grown ups. When I was a child in the 80’s though my grandmother was treating me differently and I was allowed to eat from this specific butter, it felt special since I never saw any other kid getting some of this as a treat. The texture was smooth, with a nice and refreshing acidity. In Turkey butter has a strong tradition especially in the central and eastern parts.
In Sweden we also have a strong cultured butter tradition. It is made out of cream and traditionally it is soured by itself. When the smaller dairies make butter they add Lactic acid bacteria. When I grew up we could just get one kind of butter in the stores. It was a sweet butter in which they added a culture distillate, so that it will get its proper acidic flavour.
Recently a new era began. One important player in this was the butter Vikings, known for making virgin butter and have been a supplier to NOMA for years. For various reasons they took their crusade over to the UK. As a small producer they mostly sold to top-notch restaurants. It took a while for me to discover their products but when I had the first bite, it was like being transferred to my grandmother’s kitchen. The taste was so smooth with such a lovely acidity. Their butters have a distinct acidity and in my palate, the taste reminds me a lot of the butters I’ve been eating in Anatolia.
An upcoming star in the dairy world is Emå-dairy. They do their butter from cultured cream. It’s a lovely one. The biggest company in Sweden still produce their butter with culture distillate.
For me cultured butter is an important link between those two culinary traditions I grew up with.
Now that cultured butter is undergoing a renaissance period and after being able to make the connections between two strong traditions, I am positive that new links and bounds can hopefully be made. Nordic has been the cool for a while now. The Anatolian is starting to get recognition by both professionals and food lovers. Many quickly understand there is more to food tradition than kebab and spices. Here people have been doing cultured products such as yoghurt, butter and cheese for as long as they have been living here. Many of these products traditionally have a distinct acidity. The high content of lactic acid bacteria gives the flavor but also allows it to last longer maintaining a delicious flavor.
In Anatolian cuisine when a product accentuates a basic taste such as sourness, it is often distinct and quite obvious but also well balanced. These types of products are often an important taste carrier for the outcome of a dish. The butter plays a central role when cooking bulgur in central parts of Anatolia. Without plenty amounts of butter the dish won’t have a nice texture or aroma. The goat butter can take many dishes to new higher levels either connected to tradition or not. My personal favorite is goat butter confit tempeh. The cultured butter is an important carrier for the flavors of cooking in Anatolia. Today it is hard to reinterpret the traditions when many of the products are hard to find. The decreasing culinary diversity in products such as butter narrows the taste in dishes.
Butter is more than just fat.