A pastry chef and food writer offers a detailed history of her favorite ingredient.
Whether served simply with a loaf of country bread in Ireland, folded into delicate layers of pastry to make a French croissant, or even mixed into a strong tea to propel Nepalese Sherpas up the side of Mount Everest, butter is a ubiquitous and seemingly universally beloved ingredient. As a former pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America and the founding editor of culture, a magazine about specialty cheese, Khosrova has long relied on natural saturated fats for her craft. After moving her family to the Hudson Valley, where she lives between two dairy farms, the author grew more interested in how we started eating dairy fat and the different ways it is used around the world. No one knows exactly when people started eating butter, but one theory is poetic—Stone Age nomads stored milk in animal skins, and as they traveled by horseback, the skins jostled enough to churn the milk into butter. From there, Khosrova takes us through the history, from the sacred—Tibetan Buddhists have used butter sculptures in their rituals for centuries; it also had spiritual meaning in Hindu and Celtic cultures—to the commonplace (in Europe and the New World, butter has been a mainstay of the economy for the last four centuries) to the reviled (the low-fat craze of the 20th century and the rise of butter alternatives like margarine) to the appreciated (from Sweden to the Napa Valley, artisanal butter-making is back). In the final third of the book, the author shows readers what to do with her beloved subject, offering a “greatest hits” list of recipes for everything from croissants and scones to the perfect buttercream frosting, a silky béchamel sauce, and even cold smoked butter. Khosrova hits her stride with the recipes; the history portion has some charming anecdotes and interesting facts but is hindered by its narrow focus.
A tasty but limited history of butter.