This June, we are inviting you, our customers, to join us in celebrating National Dairy Month
- an annual tradition that acknowledges the contributions of the dairy industry to our health, our communities, and our environment. Originally created as National Milk Month in 1937 for the purpose of promoting the sale of milk, the National Dairy Council changed the name as the public embraced the opportunity to recognize the significant role that all dairy farmers and processors play in the food system.
As a dairy processing business, we would like to celebrate National Dairy Month by highlighting the...well...process of turning local milk into your favorite Meadow Butter and Crème Fraîche. This week we will be shedding light on the details of our Meadow Butter production.
When Kriemhild Dairy Farms was established in 2010, we were already committed to the advancement of grazing dairies and the creation of high-quality, grass-grazed dairy food. The flavor and nutritional benefits of grass-grazed dairy products manifest the the best in high-fat products. Therefore, when Kriemhild was developing its first product, butter was a natural choice, and ultimately became our signature creation.
However, as a start-up agribusiness, we would not have been able to create our Meadow Butter without the unique partnership we have with our co-packer, Queensboro Farm Products in Canastota, NY. At the time of our founding, the farmers who founded Kriemhild -- including co-owners Bruce and Nancy Rivington, owners of Red Gate Farm -- were already shipping their milk to Queensboro. They were aware that Queensboro had a reputation for making butter with a higher than average butterfat, so it was a perfect place to begin our butter production.
A typical relationship with a co-packer implies the employees of the facility handle all of the production and packing of a product for an external company. Our relationship with Queensboro, is atypical in that we, as a company, physically take part in the production and packing of our butter within the facility using a combination of both our own and Queensboro’s equipment.
Making Dreams Out of Cream
Red Gate Farm’s grass-fed milk is picked up and delivered by a trucking service and sold to Queensboro Farm Products every other day. The cream is separated from milk using centrifugal cream separator. This process, which takes about 24 hours naturally, only takes about 13 minutes. The remaining skim milk is sold on the general milk market or used to make other Queensboro products. The cream, which is approximately 38% fat, is pasteurized and transferred to a vat to temper. During the tempering process, between 18 and 24 hours, the fat globule restructures itself and continues to release latent heat. Once the cream has tempered, it’s then piped into a barrel churn. 42,500 pounds of Red Gate Farm’s milk will yield approximately 2,000 pounds of butter, however, this number will vary depending of the percentage of butterfat in the milk.
The churn is a mechanical barrel that will spin about the speed of a clothes drying machine, tumbling the cream. The agitation of the cream disturbs the hydrophobic phospholipid membranes surrounding the milkfat globules. As Dr. Robert Bradley likes to describe it in his book, ‘Better Butter’: "Cream is an oil-in-water emulsion that turns into butter when inverted to a water-in-oil emulsion." After about 45 minutes of churning, small clumps start to form, a state known as “popcorn butter” or “butter grains”. At this point the whey is drained, the butter rinsed, drained again and the butter is sold and turned over to Kriemhild.
As a team, we don hair nets, plastic aprons, clean rubber boots, and disposable gloves to prepare for a day of packing butter. We begin by doing a complete wash of all our equipment. If we are making salted butter, salt is added to the “popcorn butter” and then it is put through about another five minutes of churning. The fat globules that form the small clumps continue to fuse to each other, pushing our air and moisture, to a point where it is a single creamy, firm mass of butter.
We use a mix of technology and elbow grease to pack our butter into different sized containers. All the butter is taken from the churn and placed in a low sheer pump with two strong metal augers that push the butter through a round pipe, similar to a play-doh factory toy.
As the butter comes from the pipe it is cut to a certain size, placed on wax paper, and hand rolled to create our traditional rolls. Our two pound, five pound, and 50 pound sizes are also all hand packed. The only size not hand-packed is our 8oz container. To fill our half-pounders, our butter pump is connected to a rotary filler which directly fills our screen printed tubs to an accurate weight, places and heat seals a piece of foil to the top, and presses a lid to close it.
When all the butter is packed in containers, it’s then put into labeled boxes for either direct delivery to one of our wholesale accounts or for storage until later. Then, the whole production room and equipment need to be rinsed, washed, and sanitized again.
Depending on the size of the batch of butter, and the sizes of units we are packing, a day of butter production can last from 4 to 8 hours. This does not include the time it takes to load the pallets of boxes onto our refrigerated truck, travel back to our headquarters, and then unload and organize our inventory. Food production is also physically intense. It involves standing on hard ground for long hours, tedious periods or repetitive motions, lifting and moving heavy boxes, and no matter how hard we try to not get wet, we always get wet during washing.
From Our Hands to Yours
Food processing is hard work, but we love to be able to see the creation of our butter from pasture through to market. And although our reach is far, and growing, when you meet one of our team, whether they're delivering your order or at the farmer’s market, you can know that team member handing you your butter is the same person who has taken part in making it.
As the Butter Churns
Author: Ellen Fagan
Farm and Outreach Coordinator