Butter and Margarine

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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These days, if a cook actually manages to make butter in the kitchen, it’s most likely a disaster: a cream dish has been mishandled and the fat separates from the other ingredients. That’s a shame: all cooks should relax now and then and intentionally overwhip some cream! The coming of butter is an everyday miracle, an occasion for delighted wonder at what the Irish poet Seamus Heaney called “coagulated sunlight” “heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.” Milkfat is indeed a portion of the sun’s energy, captured by the grasses of the field and repackaged by the cow in scattered, microscopic globules. Churning milk or cream damages the globules and frees their fat to stick together in ever larger masses, which we eventually sieve into the golden hoard that imparts a warm, sweet richness to many foods.