Butter is one of those things we tend to take for granted. In my opinion there’s nothing better than smothering farmhouse butter onto fresh crusty bread straight out of the oven or a freshly baked cheese scone or its fruity twin with loads of jam and cream.
If you dig around a bit and take a look at the history of butter, you’ll begin to realise how important it actually is and not just as a food. It’s pretty versatile, not only as an accompaniment to bread, but as a key ingredient in lots of cooking processes, including sauce making and baking. But that’s not all, as it happens in some cases, it still plays a role in spiritual and cultural practices in some cultures.
The Romans (what did they ever do for us…) on the other hand used it to cure muscle aches and pains by smeared liberal quantities all over the offending limb! While others used it as makeup, water proofer and even an ingredient in cement. Though one unfortunate Cumbrian, Jocelyn Bagot of Levens Hall, got into a spot of bother when he referred to Westmorland butter as being ‘no better than axle grease’. Happily, he made amends for this slight by establishing a mobile dairy school to teach good hygiene practice in butter making.
So, you see it’s much more than a dairy by product. One thing’s for certain butter has been about for quite a while, in fact around 4,500 years they reckon. But how did someone discover how to make it? A bit of folklore comes into play here, it seems that nomadic tribes people happened on it quite by accident. They were busy traipsing across the countryside with fresh milk in a sheep’s stomach attached to a pack animal and the movement of the animal caused the milk and fat to separate and by happy accident they’d made fresh butter.
Strangely enough there might be some truth in this as a similar way of making butter is still in use in some parts of Middle East to this day, and oddly enough there’s a similar tale linked to Cumberland Rum Butter but that’s for another time!
Whatever the truth of it is butter is one of those treats many of us love, particularly in the cooler climes of northern Europe, where it doesn’t end up as a big runny puddle on the kitchen floor because of the climate.
The art of butter making was enhanced by the Vikings, especially seeing as they’d developed a lucrative export trade in the stuff but despite this until relatively recently it was largely a seasonal activity, with most being made between March through to the end of September, before the onset of the long winter months.
As you can imagine butter making varied hugely farm to farm, especially in a largely isolated county like Cumbria. Quality was the main issue, and that could simply down to those involved in making it, the feed used to nourish the animals, the health of those animals and their age and even the amount of salt used in the finished product, after all it wasn’t much more than a surplus product sold to earn a few extra pennies.
But that had all changed by the 19th century with better animal husbandry which meant animals could be milked all year round, huge improvements in transport, advances in equipment technology and new ways of keeping butter fresh, including refrigeration which all contributed towards a hugely industrial process.
But thankfully despite these advances many small farms and dairies continued to make butter in the old way largely by hand, in small artisan batches. As it goes there’s only one left in Cumbria and that’s Winter Tarn Dairy. Established in 2009 by husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Tricia Jackson, with a little help from their family, they make salted and unsalted butter in the traditional way to a centuries old family recipe.
Winter Tarn Dairy butter is made with great care in small batches using only the finest, fresh local dairy cream, all of which is sourced from a number of carefully selected small herd dairy farms in the Northwest of England.
Once the cream arrives at the dairy the team begin a hands-on process to craft their small batch artisan butters. During this process the cream is ripened and aged, before being carefully crystalised to ensure that we can create the highest quality butter. After which it is then gently warmed to ensure a low moisture level and higher fat content.
Once it reaches the correct temperature the cream is slowly churned in 100 litre batches. Once the cream begins to reach the ‘crumb’ stage the buttermilk is rinsed off until the water runs clear.
The resulting ‘crumb’ is then salted to enhance the flavour and help preserve the butter, once salted it is churned again to remove any excess water. Once the butter has been fully brought together it is then moulded, packed, and labelled by hand. This exacting process means that that they can craft truly delicious handmade award-winning artisan butter - made in the way that butter should be made.
Which leads nicely onto our recipe, something that you’ll hopefully find is a natural accompaniment to a good quality butter like Winter Tarn, which incidentally as far as I’m concerned is the best in the UK.
Cumberland Farmhouse Cheese Scones:
225g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
55g winter tarn butter, cut into cubes
150g Thornby Moore Cumberland Farmhouse Cheese, grated
90-100ml milk, plus 1 tbsp for glazing
Heat the oven to 180 °C
Sift the flour, salt, cayenne pepper and baking powder into a bowl, then sift again to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Add the butter to the bowl and combine with your fingertips to make breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle 120g of the cheese into the breadcrumb mixture and rub together until evenly distributed.
Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in enough milk to give a fairly soft but firm dough.
Flour a surface and roll out the dough to approximately 3cm thick. Cut out the scones with a medium cutter, then put on a sheet of baking parchment, glaze with a little milk and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins or until golden brown and cooked through.