Cultured Butter & the Culture of Butter

Cultured Butter & the Culture of Butter

When my dad was in third grade, his class followed the curriculum laid out in a workbook. In times of boredom and monotony, he would flip ahead and learn new material the class was soon to arrive at. One day he came across a particularly interesting bit: a tongue twister. My dad spent the next six weeks practicing the tongue twister in secrecy of his classmates until, finally, the class caught up to that point in the workbook. The teacher gave each student the opportunity to recite the tongue twister from the book, and each student who attempted this tongue twister stumbled through a slew of "Betty botta buddhas," until it was my dad's opportunity. Without even glancing at the page, he busted out the tongue twister:

"Betty bought a bit of butter for the batter, but said she, 'This butter is bitter. If I'd bought a bit of better butter it would have made the butter better.'"

With impeccable clarity and speed, my dad enunciated each syllable with the swiftness of an engine. Every kid's jaw in the class dropped.

My dad told me this story when I was a kid, and at that time, it was just a funny story. Now having spent some time at the Ranch where foresight, accountability, and sustainability are key, the story has adopted some unique and colorful undertones.

We prepare a lot of our own food at the Ranch. Dark, leafy and salad greens are grown and processed right around our kitchens. Jackfruits, soncoyas, and mamonchinos are fruits grown in our orchards and slipped into our diets. We grow many of the ingredients processed into red curries, our chickens lay a portion of our own eggs and we even grate and make coconut milk. A lot of time and intention goes behind the scenes of preparing one of the 22,000 meals the Ranch serves on a yearly basis. The latest ingredient to pass through our team's newly established food processing kitchen is cultured butter.

Although butter whipping is a simple business, conventional agricultural processes have complicated matters. Imagery of sprawling fields with shady orange trees and golden sunsets are merely a misleading, commercial scheme that draws in consumers. If the same Betty from my dad's tongue twister had seen a butter package of a concentrated animal feeding operation, she may have consulted her local dairy neighbor instead.

In the campo of Costa Rica, we are fortunate enough to have two neighbors that milk their cows and preserve the cream with a microbial culture. Those two neighbors are Daisy, and coincidentally enough, Betty, who does not make bitter butter at all, but rather fresh butter. When we walk down the road, we can see that their land is integrated in Costa Rica's biological reserves, or protected forest lands that weave through the countryside's agricultural sites. A low intensive dairy system means that farmers can give more attention to the quality of the ambient environment. The flavor of the ecology shines through in four simple steps of processing sour creme into butter.

Step 1: Buy sour cream from your local dairy neighbor.

Step 2: Whip the creme with the keystone appliance, the food processor, until it has thickened.

Step 3: Pour the product through a food strainer. This separates a rich, cultured butter from the liquid, buttermilk.

Step 4: Add salt to the butter and use a spoon to press out any excess buttermilk and drain. Once this process is complete, you'll be left with your very own cultured butter product.

Freshly sourced cultured butter has revealed some illuminating assets to Ranch food culture. Like everything else served from our kitchens, the butter is delicious. It's a medium for live microbes that actually form symbiotic relationships with the microbes present in your gut. It's produced by our neighbors, so we are able to see the land and the cows and ensure we are sourcing responsibly. A simple price comparison even reveals that our homemade, cultured butter is less expensive than supermarket butter by about $1 per stick.

These are all great reasons to process your own butter, but the most important relates to reading and learning from patterns. When my dad was in third grade, he predicted the pattern laid out by the structure of his class. Each day, the class moved forward in the workbook, all of the information having been laid out before him. Patterns similarly exist in the ways cultures are interacting with their foods. We can read these patterns and change our behavior to make sure we are eating foods that are healthy for both our bodies and our land.

In 1963, maybe Betty going to the store to buy butter was the growing custom because social norms suggested that this is how the batter comes out best. As proof of the tongue twister, the only butter bought was an obviously unsatisfactory product. Global patterns in the vast mechanization of agriculture without cultural or environmental conscientiousness has contributed to their degradation. Industrializing a simple process such as butter-making means that the vitality in microbial life is significantly decreased, land ethics are overlooked, and the wheels of economic engine and government subsidies can keep the price of this process competitively low. Plus, the taste is never fresh, never pure.

Patterns are not just ways of reading into the past, they are tools for looking ahead to the future. As people make more conscience decisions about where they source their foods, they regain their food sovereignty. They can be a part of a cultural and environmental shift that heals their bodies, waterways, soils, and communities. The pattern of regeneration is exciting enough that reintroducing skills like simple butter making become more appealing. When we sit down together for a Ranch meal, we recognize a labor of love that goes into every ingredient.

In questions surrounding the ethics of sustainability, answers are never obvious. As we navigate these territories, we are met with the awesome challenge of reconstructing a culture that respects land and people. Sometimes that means we just want our butter to taste better! Whether that culture come from your food processing practices or your live microbes, it's a robust tool in assuring that nobody be left with bitter butter.



Have you ever wanted to build your own home? Just bought a piece of land in Costa Rica and want to create a jungle paradise? Well in 2017 we have the classes you need to re-skill and build your place in this world.

We also have a few spots left in our Sustainability Primer program. If you know anyone interested in joining us please spread the word!


The Ranch Crew