February 06, 2022 3 min read

Diary Update 6 Feb 22 - What's the difference between Australian and French butter?

Julia Child famously once said "With enough butter anything is good".Julia studied and lived in France for many years.  Her preferred butter was always French and its' use played a role in many of the her favourite recipes. 

Provenance plays a significant role in taste, texture and performance of butter in baking and cooking. Let's take a look at butter and then an explanation of the difference between Australian and French butter.

What is butter?

Butter is churned cow's milk.

In the process of making butter, milk is passed through a separator creating both skim milk (0.1% milk fat) and cream ( 35-40% milk fat). The cream is taken  churned until buttermilk grains form. The excess liquid is drained and the with continued churning the grains are "worked " or sometimes called kneaded together. The churning process creates a water in oil emulsion with the final product being about 80% milkfat and 16% water. 

Salt is often added at the churning process to enhance flavour and extend the shelf life. According to the Victorian Dairy Corporation it takes milkfat about 20kg of whole milk to produce one kilogram of butter.

What other types of butter are there?

There are a number of different butters. Two common butters are as follows:

Dairy Blends and Spreads

These are a mixture of butter and vegetable oils. The oil used of often Olive or Canola oil. These are what is called spreadable butter and tend to remain softer at refrigeration temperatures.

Cultured Butter

Making cultured butter includes an additional step. Before churning the cream is cultured with bacteria. The bacteria "sours" the cream by converting the sugars to lactic acid. When churned this produces a butter with enhanced flavour. Cultured butter has a more acid flavour note and often a nuttier flavour profile.

Of course there is salted butter, organic butter and commodity butters.

What is the difference between French and Australian butter?

For a start, the butterfat levels are different in French and Australian butter.

In Australia butter has a requirement to have a minimum of 80% butterfat. In France the minimum is 82% and some European butters have as much as 84% butterfat. Although this seems like a small variation it makes for a significant difference in taste and performance in various baking and cooking recipes.

The extra butterfat in butter means less water. All though this is only a couple percentage points of fat to water, the lower amount of water greatly assists in the crisping of cookies, the rise of cakes and allows for those delicate French pastries. Extra butter fat provide improved lamination in pastries, capturing the air and creating delicious tenderness and flavour. 

French butter is often cultured butter.

Why is Australian butter yellow and European butter pale white?

The colour of butter is dependent on what the cow's are fed. In Australia the butter is yellow as the cows have been fed out in pasture. Grass although green is very high in the antioxidant called beta- carotene. The beta carotene provides a yellow orange colour and this is what gives us yellow Australian butter.

French cows on the other hand are usually grain fed. This results in a pale white or creamy coloured butter.

How do I store butter?

Wrap your butter well to protect from moisture in the fridge. This will also  protect from any odours that are easily picked up in the refrigerator. Fresh butter will keep for 3- 6 months depending on your fridge and how often you are opening the door.

Can I melt butter in the microwave if I forgot to bring it to room temperature?

If you're baking with the butter, it is not advisable to put your butter in the microwave to soften it. By doing this you change the way it will behave in your baked goods and will not get a good result.

Always bring your butter to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator and letting it stand for about 30 mins. This way the butter is soft but not melted.

Can I freeze butter?

Yes, butter can be frozen. Again wrap it carefully to protect it from moisture and odours in the freezer. It will keep frozen for about 12 months though if you are planning to bake anything delicate I would recommend buying fresh butter.

 Choosing your butter provenance and type has a lot to do with what you're planning to bake or make in the kitchen. A good quality supermarket butter will generally serve you well across a number of different uses. If you're baking something fancy then you may consider a butter with a higher butterfat content.



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