Some people never believed butter was bad  –  despite the bad press it tended to attract!    It was cast out in the wilderness for years, blamed for its saturated fat content which raised cholesterol levels- which led to heart attacks. But suddenly it’s back, being hailed as good to eat again, because recent studies showed there was not enough evidence to support the theory of reduced consumption of saturated fat in the fight against heart disease.  Some people are now even putting a spoonful of butter in their coffee for a big boost  of energy every morning.

Irish butter was once made in every farmhouse that had dairy cows. Butter making was generally the job of the farmer’s wife. She recieved her milk in the morning straight from the milking parlour, then separated the cream in a hand turned centrifuge. This cream was  left to ferment – or sour for a day or two. Afterwards, it was hand churned in an old fashioned wooden butter churner, until the thick cream turned into a lump of raw fresh golden butter.  A by product of butter is buttermilk, which is poured off when the butter solidifies in the churn. Naturally, nothing was wasted –  the buttermilk was always used by the farmer’s wife to make her Irish brown soda bread.  After draining, the butter would be washed in cold water to remove any last traces of buttermilk,  which prevents the butter going rancid, then salted by hand to preserve it,  and formed into blocks with traditional wooden butter pats. Linen or muslin was often used to wrap the butter. In the days before fridges,  butter was kept in a dark cool larder.

Good Food Ireland has three butter makers in its membership. They may not use the old fashioned hand turned centrifuge or wooden butter churners anymore. Their equipment is modern and easily cleaned stainless steel. But their methods still hark back to traditional times. At Cuinneog Farmhouse Butter, Breda Butler remembers her parents making butter in the kitchen at home with the old fashioned equipment,  when they started their award winning business 25 years ago.

 In Northern Ireland in Co. Down, Alison and Will Abernethy inherited their butter making skills from previous family generations, and began making Abernethy Butter as a hobby. In 2005, it turned into a full time business, making  superlative quality butter now available in shops like Fortnum & Mason in London and the finest food shops and delis here.  

Down in deepest West Cork, Glenilen Farm make butter from the milk of their own dairy herd plus that of local herds. Again the traditions of times past are kept in butter making methods. Glenilen butter is soft and creamy, lightly salted and rolled and wrapped in wax paper, adorned with the famous Glenilen Dairy logo on the label. It looks like a beautifully wrapped present,  and that is exactly what it is – a food gift from natural and wholesome ingredients, made on the farm. 

All these businesses have stuck to the time honoured ways of creating butter, to ensure their product is as close as possible to the butter from yesteryear. Which is why they are part of Good Food Ireland, preserving the farmhouse skills of the buttermaker. 

Just recently, Cuinneog won three gold stars in the Great Taste Awards in London, and was placed in the Great Taste Top 50 foods available world wide – quite some going for a business that started at the kitchen table. Cuinneog was served to Queen Elizabeth II on her state visit to Ireland in 2011. And included in an video recipe for Goatsbridge Trout with Broth of Smoked Salmon and Mussels recipe, which can be created by Garry Hughes, Executive Chef of The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Find the video link here.

Abernethy butter has also had huge success at the Great Taste Awards over the years, and is favoured by Heston Blumenthal, Head Chef of the Fat Duck Restaurant in Berkshire, UK, and Marcus Wareing, two Michelin starred Head Chef of his restaurant Marcus, in Knightsbridge London, among other chefs here and in the UK. 

Find some other delicious Good Food Ireland butter recipes here.