Dutch Preserved Butter

In my appreciation of all things dairy, alongside an admiration of regional products, I was excited to find this long sought after tin of butter (in a Thai food shop on Mulberry Street of all places).

H.J. Wijsman & Zonen began producing tinned butter in the early years of the 20th century as need for shelf stable items increased with wars in Europe.  They developed a way to preserve and tin butter while keeping it's emulsion, a mystery with a large rabbit hole that I will soon jump down.

It is salted, though at only 1% per weight, so the flavour is still sweet.  It is incredibly silky, with no fat crystals or water unincorporated, though the fat coats my mouth with a reminder of shortening.

I enjoy the label design, and am humbled by the science and technology involved in developing a shelf-stable butter that can provide people without refrigeration a buttery treat.



let's take a moment to think about butter....

I think about butter often, mainly in the morning as I groggily spread a thick layer on my toast while I will my coffee to brew faster in it's French-pressed container.  In the afternoon, I think about butter while making my snack of once again a thick spread of butter on sourdough bread with a healthy spoonful of Marmite.

Butter is a magical creation of science at work in front of your eyes..  Have you ever churned butter at home?  You begin with room temperature cream, slowly whip it by hand-held churn or machine until firm peaks of whipped cream form, then break into golden globs of fat sloshing around in fresh buttermilk.

The Irish believed this transformation was so mystical that only specific women were deemed worthy enough to properly watch over the process.  Hence the tradition of women-owned creameries?  Perhaps indeed.

My love of butter grew from my Irish heritage, and developed during my expat years of living in France.  There in Paris I discovered the sweet, cultured and sea-salted butter of Normandy, and promptly slathered thick layers of it on everything.  With glee.

Upon my return to America, I grew homesick for my beloved butter and began making my own at home, and sharing it with friends and family to enjoy.  Over the years, I have perfected my process and minimized whipped cream splatters.. I can talk your ear off about the differences in muslin vs. cheesecloth, waxed paper vs. foil for wrapping, types of cream, varieties of salt, and the symbolism behind images on butter stamps.  You've been warned..

If you really just want to enjoy some delicious cultured, sea-salted butter handmade by yours truly.. the moment has arrived for my butter-churning business, and I would love to share some with you!

Contact me at: butter@phelanssundries.com

Visit my site at:www.phelanssundries.com

Soon to be available at a local Brooklyn grocer near you.

..and, just because I adore Seamus Heaney, here is a butter poem for your thoughts..

Churning Day
A thick crust, coarse-grained as limestone rough-cast,
hardened gradually on top of the four crocks
that stood, large pottery bombs, in the small pantry.
After the hot brewery of gland, cud and udder,
cool porous earthenware fermented the butter milk
for churning day, when the hooped churn was scoured
with plumping kettles and the busy scrubber
echoed daintily on the seasoned wood.
It stood then, purified, on the flagged kitchen floor.
Out came the four crocks, spilled their heavy lip
of cream, their white insides, into the sterile churn.
The staff, like a great whiskey muddler fashioned
in deal wood, was plunged in, the lid fitted.
My mother took first turn, set up rhythms
that, slugged and thumped for hours. Arms ached.
Hands blistered. Cheeks and clothes were spattered
with flabby milk.
Where finally gold flecks
began to dance. They poured hot water then,
sterilized a birchwood bowl
and little corrugated butter-spades.
Their short stroke quickened, suddenly
a yellow curd was weighting the churned-up white,
heavy and rich, coagulated sunlight
that they fished, dripping, in a wide tin strainer,
heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.
The house would stink long after churning day,
acrid as a sulphur mine. The empty crocks
were ranged along the wall again, the butter
in soft printed slabs was piled on pantry shelves.
And in the house we moved with gravid ease,
our brains turned crystals full of clean deal churns,
the plash and gurgle of the sour-breathed milk,
the pat and slap of small spades on wet lumps.