In a new series that delves into the ins-and-outs of some of Borough’s unsung dairy heroes, we talk to Neal’s Yard Dairy about a special kind of butter from Suffolk: Bungay raw cultured butter
Somerset is known for its cheddar cheese, Derbyshire for its stilton, Lancashire for its… Lancashire. Lesser-known these days in the dairy hall of fame, though, is Suffolk butter. It might have fallen from former glory now, but there was a time when East Anglian butter was worth its weight in a less edible type of gold. To this day, in the middle of Bungay—a market town in the Waveney valley—you’ll find the ‘Buttercross’: a large domed monument standing proud in its centre, marking the spot where dairy farmers once gathered to sell their wares.
While the region’s association with butter-making may have faded, there is at least one dairy in Suffolk keeping those old traditions alive: Fen Farm Dairy. Indeed, its Bungay raw butter is the country’s only raw farmhouse butter produced using lactic culture. “Bungay raw butter is the only cultured butter we sell—and it’s the butter I like the most,” explains Sebastian at Neal’s Yard Dairy. “It’s made by the same people who make Baron Bigod cheese, which is why it’s similarly packaged. It’s a secondary product to the cheese-making.”
The butter is made with the rich, high-protein milk of the ancient montbeliarde cow, the dairy’s own grass-fed herd, and handmade the old-fashioned way—that is, by separating the cream from the fresh, still-warm cow’s milk and churning and hand-paddling it with wooden ‘butter hands’ to press out the liquid buttermilk. What’s left is solid butterfat—which, once cooled, kneaded and pressed into shape, becomes the slab of golden deliciousness that is butter.
A cocktail of bacteria
“Once you get into the science behind butter, much like cheese-making, it’s really complex,” Sebastian continues. “At every point of its production there’s a different variable that you could take control of that will make a difference in the overall product. The cool thing about this butter is, it’s made with raw cream—all of the other butters we sell are pasteurised—so it has the propensity to have a lot of different flavours. When you pasteurise cream you basically kill all the bacteria, which have lots of flavour profiles. Using raw cream means it has a little bit more going on.”
The ‘cultured’ part of the equation is nothing to do with the sophistication of the eater (though you’ll feel pretty special when you do): “When you ‘culture’ butter, it means you add certain starters to the make,” he continues. Before the cream is churned, a carefully maintained cocktail of lactic bacteria is added to it and allowed to work its magic, causing it to gently sour. “This gives the butter character—particularly in this instance, where you have the added complexity of using raw cream.”
Cheesemonger that he is, Sebastian eats his unashamedly by the chunk: “Make sure it’s at room temperature and just go with thick slabs of it, as if you’re eating cheese, with fresh bread,” he grins, slicing a generous hunk by way of proving his point. Afterall, if you can’t eat butter with your bare hands in a cheese shop, where can you? We make the most of the opportunity, savouring its sweet-yet-savoury, creamy complexity. “There’s a little acidity at the end too,” Sebastian chimes in “and it’s salty”—generously so, but all the better for it.
The proper route
“You wouldn’t spend your money on a really good butter like this to make a curd with it. I wouldn’t suggest using cultured butter in pastry, either—you don’t want all those other flavours.” The only proper route is to head round to Bread Ahead or Olivier’s Bakery, grab yourself some proper sourdough and smear it on in slightly obscene quantities. “It deserves to be appreciated in its own right.”