Butter With a Pedigree

For Beurre d’Echire, the quality of the butter is marked by the quality of the milk, which comes from cows feeding on land no more than about 19 miles from the small village of Echire, between Poitiers and La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.

Milk for Echire is collected daily from the 66 farms that make up the cooperative, one of the few remaining independent butter-making operations in France. ”We monitor what the cows eat, then gather the milk and keep it in a temperature-controlled environment for the short time before it comes to the factory,” director Mr. Chartier explained, ”where we skim it within two hours of its arrival, using the same machines we’ve used since the factory was built in 1894.” The cooperative produces 950 tons of butter each year, just 0.2 percent of all the butter produced in France annually.

The cream is then pasteurized at a low temperature, the better to maintain its quality. Next, it is set aside to ripen, a time-consuming step known as culturing, which has a profound effect on the flavor. But there is no post-production flavoring at Echire. The pasteurized cream is allowed to rest for 16 to 18 hours after natural ferments, which are cultivated at the factory from skimmed Echire milk, are added, in effect turning the cream into creme fraiche, The culture is allowed to develop for 16 to 18 hours, by which time the milk has essentially become crème fraîche. The milk is then churned in teak churns to form the butter, which is then washed in water drawn from a local spring right near the factory.

“The three factors that are of prime importance at this stage are time, temperature and percentage of ferments, and they must be exact” pointed out Mr. Chartier.