The Case For Butter Transcript

World Food Court: The Hague - 9:00 am

GUEST: Judge Eato

JE: Citing a long and varied list of crimes against humanity including trafficking in saturated and cholesterols, soliciting funny flavors in the refrigerator, and breaking in sauces, a petition has been filed with this court requesting that the defendant [cut to a stick of butter] be eradicated from our cuisine and be replaced with margarine and other various oils. Now, since no one has offered any testimony why this fat should remain in our kitchens, I have no choice but to rule ...
AB: This trial is a mockery.
JE: What?
AB: That's right, your honor. This, this wholesome and versatile food, this friend to cooks everywhere, stands wrongly accused. I say that butter has been slandered by the dark agents of industry and media, and maligned by the frantic fears of a fat-phobic public.
JE: Are you a lawyer?
AB: No, but I'm playing one on TV.
JE: Ah. Well, can you give this court one good reason why butter should exist in this age?
AB: No. I can give dozens!
JE: One will suffice.
AB: Fine. Sauces!
JE: What about sauces?
AB: Well your honor, butter is basically sauce waiting to happen.
JE: You're talking crazy.
AB: No, your honor. And I'm here to prove that I'm talking good eats.

World Food Court

AB: [whispering with the stick of butter]
JE: Make your case, counselor.
AB: [continues the whispering] A moment.
JE: Counselor!
AB: Ahem. Of course. Ahem. Your honor, we would not begin to bore the bench with a story of butter's bovine beginnings, but we would like to enlighten you about the torturous trip from Guernsey to grocery.
JE: This had better not be an attempt to churn up sympathy.

AB: Churn? That's a good one, your honor. May I present, Exhibit A? Torn from its mother's breast, separated, skimmed, pasteurized, the milk is now cream, nothing more than microscopic blobs of milk fat floating in a universe of water along with some casein, calcium and dissolved salts, that kind of thing. Some cream is even injected with bacteria.

Exhibit A: Cream

JE: Don't even try that bacteria defense.
AB: Very well. Allow me to rephrase. Your honor, butter basically comes in three distinct market varieties in this country. There is, for instance, Exhibit B: unsalted or sweet butter. Wrapped in foil, usually, so that it does not go rancid. Then, of course, Exhibit C: lightly salted or sweet cream butter. Now since the salt helps preserve it, it doesn't have to be in foil. Then, of course, Exhibit D: European style or "lactic" butter always inoculated with bacteria.

Exhibit B:
Unsalted "Sweet Butter"

Exhibit C:
Salted "Sweet Cream Butter"

Exhibit D:
European "Lactic" Butter

JE: To what end?
AB: Flavor, your honor. See, the bacteria makes the cream that goes into the butter very, very tangy. Look at it this way, if you're going to ingest calories from fat, you ought to make it count. You know what I'm saying?
JE: I suppose.
AB: May I?
JE: Oh, yes. Please.
AB: Thank you. Now comes trail by churn. Exhibit E, please.

[a food processor is placed on the stand]

AB: You honor, now the cream's milk fat is agitated with such violence that the globules smash together, their membranes rip apart, and soon become one giant mass. Imagine, if you will, being turned inside out because that is what this dairy must endure.

2 Cups of cold heavy cream will produce about 6 ounces of butter.

AB: Now, where once we had little globules of fat floating around in a liquid phase, we now have little droplets of water in a solid phase. Do you, uh, have some bowls, your honor.
JE: Oh, yes. I have some bowls.
AB: Very, very good. Now that solid phase, of course, is what we call butter. But there is an awful lot of liquid left over. And that is what is traditionally called buttermilk.
JE: Mmm. [goes to take a sip]
AB: Oh, I wouldn't drink that if I were you. It's usually used as livestock feed.
JE: [puts it down]

Many buttermakers dry their buttermilk, producing powdered skim milk.

AB: Ahem. Of course, salt is generally added to the young butter at this point, both as a preservative and, of course, for flavor.
JE: May I?
AB: Enjoy.
JE: [takes a taste] Tastes like butter!
AB: Ah, rudimentary, but yes. Of course commercial butters still have a long way to go. Uh, Exhibit F, please.

[projection screen is rolled out]

AB: Uh, thank you. Projection.

[projection starts. AB speaks on the projection]

AB: Deposition number one. We're here in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania Land O' Lakes butter factory. ...

Land O' Lakes: Carlisle, PA - 10:53 am

GUEST: William Schreiber, V.P. Easter Operation Product Division

      ... Here behind me is general manager, Bill Schreiber. We're going to find out what he knows. Mr. Schreiber, what makes great butter?
WS: Great butter comes from great cream.
AB: What makes great cream?

WILLIAM SCHREIBER: Hmm. Great cream comes from great milk, and we have great milk that we supply to this facility. We have about 26 or 27 hundred farmer members that supply milk to Land O' Lakes Eastern operations. We have a whole team of people that goes out and inspects these farms that their meeting all the necessary hygiene and sanitary standards necessary to produce great milk. Once we ensure that we have high quality milk, then what we do is separate that milk into skim cream, and we use a centrifugal machine to do that and the machine spins at about 4,000 RPMs. We started with three and half percent fat in the milk and what we end up with is cream that's about 42 percent fat. Then we'll pasteurize that.  We pasteurize it at 190 degrees. We hold it for about 30 seconds. Then we'll take that cream and we'll cool it down to a temperature that is less than 45 degrees and we'll put into a cream silo, and that's where we get crystals, fat crystals.

tanker full of great milk

Step 1:
Separate the skim from the cream


42% fat



AB: Crystals?
WS: Crystals. Right. We want to form crystals.
AB: Fat crystals.
WS: We want to form fat crystals that takes, again, about 6 to 8 hours, and those crystals will have a tendency to stick to each other. And that's what we want. That's the quality that we're after.

This period is called "Tempering"

AB: Sticky crystals.
WS: Sticky crystals is where it's at.
AB: That's a good thing for butter.
WS: That's a good thing for butter because sticky crystals stick together and we want as much of the fat from the silo of cream to end up on the butter side of the equation as opposed to the buttermilk side of the equation.

 AB: I see. So what's churning really about?
WS: Well, we have a continuous churning process which basically means that that 42 percent fat cream is pumped into what is called a churning section. And in the churning section, what we do is we take cream which is basically fat that's wrapped in water and we put it against an abrasive surface and we liberate the fat.

continuous churn
new butter

fat is "liberated" by
abrasive surface

AB: Liberate the fat.
WS: Right. So at that point, we have fat globules which are essentially butter and we have buttermilk, the buttermilk being the water phase. Now that we've made buttermilk and butter, we separate the buttermilk and butter. Once we've done that, we take the remaining butter and we put it through what's called the working section of the churn. And this is where we really start to develop the consistency of the butter so that is resembles the butter you come to expect when you, uh, when you put it on your table at home. And then we'll go into what is called the butter boat. And the butter boat is basically a wide spot in the line, if you will. Prior to the time that we feed this butter into the various processing lines.

 buttermilk             fat

Separate buttermilk
from butter

"working section"

"butter boat"

finished butter

AB: Okay, I see. So from then you just extrude it and package it into whatever form you need, right?
WS: Really, that's it. I mean, we'll make quarter- pound sticks out of it, put it into a one-pound box, and when you see it it's in a little yellow box or a little blue box.


AB: Anytime during this process do you add things to the cream or butter?
WS: The butter?
AB: Yeah.
BS: No ... ah, well we add salt. That's part of the process. Butter has a salt content of about 1.2 to 1.4 percent.
AB: No funky chemicals with strange names? Nothing like that?
WS: No funky chemicals. Just sweet cream from high quality milk and a little bit of salt.

Since a cow's diet changes with the season, so does the color of butter.

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AB: Lights, please. Thank you. You're honor, the resulting butter is, by law, at least 80 percent butterfat. However, high end butters go as high as 88 percent butter[fat], and I might add that, uh, that if your honor's market doesn't carry these butters, I can hook you up.

80% butterfat by law

JE: Really?
AB: Absolutely.
JE: Let the record show that the defense counsel tried to bribe the bench.

AB: [growls] The remaining mass is mostly water plus small amounts of protein, lactose, glycerides, and phospholipids, including lecithin.
JE: Leci-who?


AB: Lecithin. An emulsifier, you honor, also found in egg yolks. It helps hold sauces like beurre blanc together. The point is, is that butter is completely natural. So natural, in fact, that it falls under the watchful eye of my first witness.

USDA AGENT: The dairy division of the United States Department of Agriculture inspects dairy and butter production facilities to ensure wholesome product and sanitary conditions. Grades of double A, A or B are awarded based on flavor, body color, spread-ability and salt content. Double A butters are milk and smooth spreading. 'A' grade butters have a slightly rougher texture while B grades crack rather than spread and tend towards a slight acidity, which some bakers seem to like. To be certain that a brand has passed government scrutiny always look for the USDA shield and grade on the package.

USDA Shield

JE: And what about margarine?
UA: Margarine is a manufactured product, sir, and therefore outside my jurisdiction.
JE: If butter is so carefully graded, then how come I pulled a stick out of my fridge a few weeks ago that tasted like Yak back?
UA: Sir, I wouldn't try to pin that one on the federal government.

JE: Who's fault is it?
AB: The distributors, the markets, maybe even yours, your honor. You see, nothing maters more to my client than freshness. If mishandled on the road, or in the store, or in the home, even top grade butter will oxidize.
JE: Oxidize?
AB: Exactly. The butterfat reacts with the oxygen either from the air or in the water inside the butter itself to create butyric acid. That leads to rancidity and rancidity and tastes like ...
JE: Yak back.
AB: Old, wet yak back to be exact. This is why, your honor, so many manufactures choose to wrap their unsalted butter in foil to keep the air out.
JE: What about the salted?

AB: Ah. As long as you've got a little salt in the mixture, the reaction can't happen. You don't have to wrap it in foil. Of course, if your honor is really interested in butter freshness, well, allow me to introduce defense Exhibit G: a one pound box of butter. You'll notice, your honor, that there is a date embossed on the bottom of this box. Do you see that, your honor?
JE: Yes.

Exhibit G:
1 lb Box of Butter

AB: Thank you. You'll notice that date is almost always four months from the actual date the butter was made. Now this is how you can tell if you're getting really fresh butter. Just look at the date, subtract four months and you'll know the date that it was made. Of course, I wouldn't push it much beyond this date even if I were to freeze it.

4 months if an average. There are no laws or industry standards regarding expiration dates.

JE: You can't freeze butter.
AB: You honor, I do it all the time. As a matter of fact, I only keep one stick in the refrigerator. Every thing else is in a zip-top bag in the freezer.
JE: That's all well and good, but what are you going to do about this sauce defense?
AB: How about magic?

Beurre Blank "white butter"
The Kitchen

AB: [voice over] Beurre blanc, or white butter, comes as close to culinary magic as you can get. Start weaving this spell by adding one large or two small shallots, chopped fine, to a pan.
JE: What exactly is this shallot?

2 Tbls chopped shallots

AB: Well structurally it's like, well, imagine if an onion and head of garlic got together and got married and had kid.
JE: Is that legal?
AB: [sigh] The kid would be a shallot. They're made up of cloves, like garlic, but each one is formed from concentric leaves like an onion.


concentric leaves

JE: And what about flavor?
AB: Well, shallots are more aromatic than either of their parents, and they won't play havoc with your breath. So, add 8 ounces of white wine and 2 ounces of lemon juice to the shallots and put the whole thing over high heat.

8 oz white wine
2 oz lemon juice

JE: This mixture sounds suspiciously acidic.
AB: Well just you wait until its reduced au sec.
JE: What did you call me?
AB: It's French, your honor, for 'almost dry.'  And by the way, you always want to do this in a stainless steel or other non-reactive vessel.

au sec: almost dry

non-reactive vessel

JE: Eh, of course. Yes. Um, hm.
AB: Glad you got that. All right, your honor, once the liquid's reduced to a couple of tablespoons, it's time to take out some emulsion insurance, a tablespoon of cream.

1 Tbls cream

JE: I thought this trial was about butter.
AB: The cream's emulsifiers will help to get the sauce going. Now as soon as it bubbles, reduce the heat to low. Now comes the magic.

reduce heat to low

JE: It's about time.
AB: Okay, you'll need 6 ounces, that's 12 tablespoons, or a stick and a half of cold, un-salted butter, cut into chunks. Now, add the chunks one at a time whisking first on then off the heat.
JE: Off the heat? You call that cooking?

6 oz
12 Tbls
1 1/2 sticks
cold unsalted butter

off              on

AB: Look, if the sauce goes beyond 130 degrees, the membrane surround the fat globules will collapse leaving you with an oil slick. Adding cold butter and working on and off the heat will prevent that.


JE: Fine. Now why all this whisking?
AB: Well, as the butter melts the whisk smashes the fat into little globules basically turning the butter back into cream, that is fat droplets dispersed in water. Only our water is supersaturated with flavor.
JE: Mmm. I see.

AB: Okay. As soon as the previous chunks are almost gone, return the pan to the heat and add more butter. Now, I use about a stick of butter per tablespoon of reduction, but you can change that to your taste.

3/4 - 1 stick per Tbls. reduction

JE: Counselor, even I know you can't play foot loose and fancy-free with sauce making.
AB: Well, you can with this one, because as the butter melts, its own water and emulsifiers join the party. Now, as soon as the butter's all in, season with salt and white pepper, either serve it chunky or strain and just spoon over, say, oh I don't know, a piece of poached salmon, maybe. Aah, of course that's ... there's a lot of other options. You can serve it over eggs, asparagus, any place where a creamy texture and a little bit of tang would be welcomed. Oh, and of course, if you're not going to serve it right away, get it off the heat and into a thermos. Enjoy.
JE: [takes a bite] Mmm. Delicious.
AB: Thank you.
JE: This court finds you in contempt!
AB: Contempt? For what?
JE: Endangering my health with butter. Everyone knows that margarine is better for your health.
AB: Oh is that so? Well I call my next witness.

Ancient Indian songs refer to buttermaking
on the the Asian subcontinent as early as 2,000 BC.

Act III: Whip It Good
World Food Court

GUEST: Dr. Johnson (not his real name)

AB: Hurmgh. Yes. Um, Doctor Johnson is it? How would you characterize your
      profession's past attitude towards my client.
DR. JOHNSON: Really, really mean.
AB: Really mean. Ha, ha, ha. Really. Did you, through a majority of the 20th century, advocate the use of margarine?
DJ: Oh, yeah.
AB: I see. What about now?
DJ: Um ... well ...
JE: Answer the question, Doctor.
DJ: Well, it turns out that ... um ... margarine contains stuff.
AB: Stuff. Exactly what kind of stuff?
DJ: Uh ... [mumbles] trans-fatty acids.
AB: Um, I'm sorry. I can't hear you.
DJ: Trans-fatty acids.

AB: Trans-fatty acids!  I see. Now, would you characterize these trans-fatty acids as particularly healthful?
DJ: Um ... eh ... no. No. Not necessarily.

Recent studies have linked consumption of trans fatty acids to health problems including heart disease

AB: Not necessarily. I see. So, can you still say that margarine is better for you than butter?
DJ: [hesitates]

Butter contains stearic acid, a substance known to be heart friendly.

JE: Remember, Doctor, you're under oath.
DJ: Eh, no. Not necessarily.
AB: No. Not necessarily. Thank you, Doctor, you may return to the golf course.
JE: Good argument, counselor.
AB: [nods in agreement] Yes, it was.
JE: But you know, I really love those tub spreads with the different flavors in them. Mmm.
AB: That's kind of sad, but hold on to your wig and wait for my closing argument.

Transfatty acids result when hydrogen is added to
a fat so that it will be solid at room temperature.

The Kitchen

AB: [voice over] Compound butter is as multi-use as sauce gets. Now start by cubing a pound, that's four sticks of salted butter and set it aside to soften.

1 lb butter

For no-stick cutting, either chill the cutting blade or wrap it in wax paper.

AB: Next, grab you're food processor and pour in to three to four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

3-4 Tbls X.V. olive oil

World Food Court

JE: Olive oil? What happened to the butter?
AB: Relax. It's just for flavor.
JE: Watch your tone.

The Kitchen

AB: Now, here come the chives, two tablespoons to be exact. Now since they're pretty 'stemmy', go ahead and give them a spin.

1-2 Tbls snipped chives

JE: In the car?
AB: In the food processor.
JE: Of course.

AB: Now follow this with three tablespoons of assorted fresh herbs. I like thyme, rosemary and sage.

3 Tbls fresh herbs

JE: I just love that song.
AB: That's nice. Okay. Process until the oil turns green.
JE: Now, what if I don't have a processor?
AB: Well, just mince the herbs as fine as you can, let them steep in the oil for an hour or so. Now, here comes the butter.
JE: Ah, it's about time.
AB: Now, if your mixture has a whip attachment, use it. If not, go with the paddle or the beater. It will just take a little longer. Now, add the butter and beat on low just to get things loose. Then throttle up to high until the butter lightens in color and increases slightly in volume, say, 5 to 7 minutes.
JE: Why does it increase in volume?
AB: Because it's full of air.
JE: And that's a good thing?
AB: Yeah. Because it's easier to introduce ingredients into something light and fluffy than it is into something hard and dense. Also, whipped butter will spread easily right out of the fridge and melt quickly on, say, Parker House rolls.
JE: Ah. My favorite.
AB: Oh, great. But that's another show.

Since so much of its volume is air, whipped butter, even at refrigerator temperatures, spreads easier than non-whipped.

Act IV: Playing the Taste Card
The Kitchen

JE: Please continue with your argument, counselor.
AB: Thank you, your honor. Now when the butter's light and fluffy, it's time to add the oil, okay? Then whip it just long enough to fully incorporate it into the butter. Now if you see any melted butter in the bottom of the bowl, you have overachieved. So, put the bowl and whisk in the freezer for a couple of minutes and start again. Oh, oh. Here comes the cool part.
JE: This had better not be one of your red herrings.

AB: No, your honor. But, but ... actually, this would be good on herring. Anyway, just scoop the butter out into a mound on the end of a parchment or wax paper, okay? Then what you want to do is grab the far end of the paper and fold it over the mound like that. Got that?

parchment or wax paper

JE: Um, hm.
AB: Okay, good. Then take a baking sheet or a cookie sheet, push it over the paper, hold the bottom paper, and push the pan out into a tube. See?
JE: Very clever indeed.
AB: Well, thank you, your honor. Now, uh, just roll it up, pop a rubber band on either end and refrigerate, or you could wrap it in a layer of foil and freeze it up for up to two months. The foil will foil those funky freezer flavors. Give it a few hours to set then just slice off medallions and sauce anything.

World Food Court

JE: Anything?
AB: Anything.
JE: Fillet mignon?
AB: You want fillet mignon?
JE: Yes.
AB: [clears the judge's desk and places a fillet mignon on it] Have some fillet mignon.
JE: Chicken?
AB: [places a plate of chicken on the desk] Absolutely we can do chicken.
JE: Can you do fish?
AB: [places a plate of fish on the desk] We can do fish. Actually, fish and butter are safe palls.
JE: What about buttering a roll?
AB: [places a plate of buttered rolls on the desk] Well, of course, you want some buttered rolls.
JE: What if I want something sweet?
AB: [places a plate of waffles, buns and other breakfast items on the desk] Well, if you want something sweet, I've got it. But, I do suggest that you whip the butter just as before and then [cuts to the projector screen] ...

The Kitchen

... drizzle in about a quarter of a cup of good honey, along with, say, a half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Of course, the possibilities are endless. For instance, sundried tomato and thyme butter will take pasta places it never dreamed. Dried mushrooms soaked in cognac with chives great for sautéed mushrooms. Of course, minced garlic and crushed olives are a favorite of mine on grilled fish. Then, of course, there's salmon and dill butter which is good on just about everything else.

1/4 C honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

sundried tomatoes

dried mushrooms
soaked in cognac

minced garlic
crushed olives

smoked salmon

World Food Court

JE: [having just finished eaten all of the food] Delicious. Summation!
AB: Ladies and gentleman, butter is good. Butter works. If we buy it fresh, handle it correctly, pay attention to its needs, it will reward us with good eats aplenty.
JE: Case dismissed. [bangs gavel]

Following the trial, butter got an agent and hit the talk show circuit.

With the help of butter, Judge Eato went on to actually enjoy Mrs. Eato's biscuits.

Despite his mother's wishes, Alton Brown never attended law school.

Last Edited on 08/27/2010