St. Brigid and Cultured Irish Butter


February 1 is the feast day of St. Brigid of Ireland. St. Brigid is the patron of dairy workers and one
of her symbols is the cow. There are various stories of her associated with making of butter as well. One pious story tells that Brigid would divide the butter she churned into thirteen parts, one for each of the twelve apostles and one larger part of Our Lord, which she would distribute to the poor.

When her druid master discovered her generosity with his goods, he came to the dairy to confront her. She welcomed him, washed his feet, and prepared food for him. He determined to test Brigid and commanded her to fill a great vessel with butter. Finding that she did not have enough butter to fulfill his request (because she had given so much to the needy), Brigid began to pray and through her prayers the butter multiplied in such large amounts that her druid master was brought to believe in Christ through the miracle. 

Making fresh butter is a fun endeavor for kids. It is also fairly simple. It would be a fitting activity to celebrate the feast of St. Brigid, the buttermaker. I like the good old-fashioned mason jar method. The only equipment needed is a large glass mason jar. It should be twice as large as the amount of cream you are shaking (ex: a quart jar for a pint of cream).

In much of Europe, including France and Ireland, butter is cultured by adding live bacteria to cream before churning. Traditionally, U.S made butter isn't cultured and is known as sweet cream butter.  I found some recipes where yogurt, with live bacteria cultures, is added to the cream and left to culture for a time before churning to produce a butter more like the cultured Irish butter.

Cultured Irish Butter

Ingredients

2 cups organic cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
3 tablespoons plain whole milk yogurt with live active cultures
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions

Whisk together half of the cream with the yogurt in a glass bowl until no lumps remain. Slowly whisk in the remaining cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm area for about 18 hours. When the cream is done “culturing,” it should smell and taste a bit tangy, like yogurt.

Pour the cream into a mason jar. Cover tightly and shake vigorously. First the mixture will get foamy/frothy as it passes through the whipped cream stage. Continue shaking until a ball forms. That is the butter and the liquid remaining is the buttermilk (whey). The amount of time varies depending on how vigorously you shake the jar and how high the fat content of the cream is. The higher the fat content the shorter the shaking time (heavy whipping cream).


Pour off the buttermilk (and save for cooking). Place the butter in another small bowl. In a different bowl, combine cold tap water with ice to make ice water.  To rinse the butter pour some of ice water into your bowl with the butter and knead it with your hand. Pour off the murky water and add some more ice water. After several rinses, the water that comes off should be clear.  And the butter will become more firm and stop sticking to your hands. Press all the water out and drain.



Knead in about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste. I used a Celtic gray sea salt. Scrape the butter into a ramekin or mold it into a block. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Enjoy your fresh butter on any bread including these specifically Irish breads posted in earlier years:  Traditional Irish Soda Bread or St. Brigid's Oaten Bread. Both of these recipes call for buttermilk, which would be a good use of the buttermilk you obtain from your butter making process.


St. Brigid, Pray for us!


Edited to add: Here is a close up of our St. Brigid peg doll in case anyone wants details to paint own.


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