We Americans need more culture
It’s butter, you can’t get any better than butter right? Wrong. If you love butter, sour cream, buttermilk (the kinds that are available more commonly here in the US at least), etc. already then this is going to be, well….cruel.
In The United States, by law, dairy products are pasteurized to reduce/eliminate the threat of pathogens inside the dairy growing and causing disease. Info on pasteurization is readily available and I won’t dive into a dissertation on the history of that. Long story short, pasteurization kills much of the bacteria inside dairy products. This is both good and bad. As stated, it eliminates/reduces the risk of disease, so that’s good. However, it also kills the beneficial bacteria that are actually good for us (see this post on gut bacteria).
After pasteurization, the cream we end up with is known as sweet cream. In this case, it’s sweet as opposed to “sour”. Not sour like lemon sour, but sour like sour cream and sourdough. Sweet cream has not been soured or fermented, as nothing can grow inside it anymore. This leaves the cream sweet in that it has higher levels of lactose (aka dairy sugar.)
On the other hand, in Europe and many other countries most dairy products like this are fermented or “soured”. Sour cream in Europe is called crème fraîche (or similar soured creams)(what I don’t understand is why they call a soured cream “fresh cream”, but that’s all on them for being confusing)(at least we got the name right haha.) It is a naturally soured cream. The preferred butter in Europe is also a cultured butter and not a sweet cream butter.
If cream is allowed to sit at fermenting temperatures without having been pasteurized, that same bacteria that we kill here grow and begin to ferment the cream. That is how the term “sour cream” came about. It was initially cream that had been soured so that it had thickened and the flavor compounds had changed to a more yogurt like tanginess.
Side note is we can find cheesemakers and other “artists of cultures” who can use culture starters and grass-fed cream to create crème fraîche from pasteurized cream. This crème fraîche by this brand here I have bought and it is amazing. I can only imagine what it might taste like traditionally made. This brand here sells a grass-fed variety. Also, just use your own grass-fed cream and make your own! For instructions on how to make cultured butter and buttermilk see our post here.
Why do I care?
Diacetyl, lactic acid bacteria, and good digestion. Diacetyl is the compound that gives butter it’s buttery aroma (whoever invented English got real creative with the adjectives on that one “ummm, it’s….”buttery”?). Anyways, as the cream ferments, this compound is concentrated and intensifies. If you’re a butter lover and you haven’t smelled cultured butter before I hope you have strong will power or you may gain weight just by smelling it over and over and…well, you get the point. It can be added to foods to give a buttery flavor (stay away from these foods (if something doesn’t taste like butter because it has butter in it then it shouldn’t taste like butter)), but here we get it the way nature intended it.
Lactic acid bacteria is responsible for giving a tangy flavor. Imagine a butter or sour cream or buttermilk with an even more intense butter flavor AND the slightest tangy undertone similar to yogurt. Are you following me now?
Those who are lactose intolerant may find cultured creams easier to deal with. The fermenting process converts lactose to lactic acid. It takes the sugar that some people have troubles digesting and turns it into flavor. Win, win, right!? The bacteria in the culture are also probiotic and aid in the digestive process. If you were able to add more naturally probiotic foods to your diet there would be less searching labels for foods specifically formulated to have probiotics added in.
If you love butter, sour cream, buttermilk…etc. then I feel you owe it to yourself to experience cultured butter, cultured buttermilk, and crème fraîche. You’ll fall in love all over again, and your gut will thank you.