Whoever heard of canned butter?

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“Canning butter?” was the reverberating exclamation from a recent cheese-making workshop, entitled “Butter & More Butter” at the Collin County Farm Museum.

In addition to teaching the practical elements of butter and cheese making, the museum’s educational workshops incorporate historical knowledge as well, such as canning butter. Think about it, more than a hundred years ago there was no reliable method of refrigeration. Early settlers had to devise a way to preserve their food, and that meant canning their butter. I enjoyed watching the look of shock on my students’ faces gradually changed to understanding. Contemporary society has become used to viewing our food certain ways. As a result, people have forgotten that there are many different forms foods can take.

While the Butter & More Butter workshop students were still collecting their wits from the canned butter realization, I messed them all up again by switching around their definition of terms like “buttermilk” and “skim milk.”

If you are regular visitor to the grocery store and you buy skim milk, you are essentially buying fat free milk. However, in butter and cheese making class, “skim milk” refers to the original definition: whole milk in which the cream was “skimmed” off the top. There is still fat in the milk, just very little or no cream.

Students also had to adjust to two definitions of buttermilk. The “cultured buttermilk” you buy at the grocery store is similar to the one you can make at home with “skimmed milk.” But there is another type of buttermilk, a “traditional buttermilk” which forms during the butter-making process. After the butter clumps are removed from the churn, the liquid that remains is a high fat milk (not cream) called “buttermilk.” You can still find these terms in old recipes from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

During the course of learning correct terms and definitions, the students also got an education on the production of different milks. I am sure they felt like they were back in high school chemistry learning about the mechanics of pasteurization and homogenization, as well as the combinations of water, proteins and lipids.

Thankfully, they keep coming back for more.

-- Jennifer Rogers

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