Irelands Tasty Summer Butter
Ireland has all the elements needed to make the finest butter in the world. A few small producers are taking advantage.
Summer was once buttermaking time in Ireland. Quality grassland, diverse herbage, rich milk and almost year-round grazing helped create an outstanding product. Nowadays, few make it because it is fat. And fat is bad. Butter also has a will of its own, unlike factory-made spreads that are treated to keep the same consistency at any temperature. However, the few small farms still making butter in Ireland still have a product that is very rounded, smooth and full-mouthed in flavor, compared to widely distributed French butter, which is so light that any taste at all seems elusive.
One small, fine buttermaker whos succeeded is Tom Butler. His butter, created on a farm in County Mayo near Swinford, is known variously as Irish Country Butter and Cuinneog Farmhouse Butter, both of which are widely distributed in supermarkets. Mr. Butler started on a very small scale, initially making butter in a small wooden rotary churn that produced only about 14 lbs. a week. The pasteurized milk he uses, from a local creamery, is left to “rest” for a day before churning. Once the cream breaks, the buttermilk is drawn off, a little salt is added and excessive moisture is worked out. The process is simple, and the resulting product is extremely pure.
Only The Best
Bill Hogan and Sean Ferry of West Cork are top-drawer makers of Irish hard cheeses, sold as Gabriel and Desmond. They use buttermilk drawn off during their cheesemaking process to make a fine butter. Its done only in summertime, when the milk is at its richest, and gives the butter a deep and appealing hue.
Irelands farmhouse cheesemakers have gained a large clientele and won numerous awards since the 1970s. It seems that the channels of trade theyve built for cheese could help make good farmhouse butters successful. But theres been little activity on this front so far. If you’re in Ireland this summer, the best places to find good local butters are at the various farmers markets. In the meantime, you can satisfy your cravings with a simple, butter-rich recipe for a glorious fruit-topped butter sponge.
BUTTER SPONGE RECIPE
9-inch baking pan
3 tablespoons butter
4 oz brown sugar
Seasonal fruit of your choice
- Melt the butter in the baking pan and sprinkle with brown sugar
- Arrange the fruit in a neat pattern on top of the butter and sugar mixture
- Next make the sponge
6 oz flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 pint milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4oz soft butter
4 oz confectioners sugar
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt
- Beat the egg and add the milk and vanilla extract
- Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, beat until fluffy and light in color
- Add the flour mixture alternately with the egg and milk
- Pour the batter over the fruit in the prepared tin
- Bake for 50 minutes in a moderate oven (350°C)
- Turn the tin upside-down on a serving plate and leave for a few minutes, and then lift off. The brown sugar mixture will run down over the cake
- Serve warm with lightly whipped cream
Regina Sexton is a food historian and writer living in County Cork.