Before churning, cream is subjected to a program of cooling designed to control the crystallization of the fat so that the resultant butter has the right consistency. The consistency of butter is one of its most important quality-related characteristics, both directly and indirectly, since it affects the other characteristics - chiefly taste and aroma. Consistency is a complicated concept and involves properties such as hardness, viscosity, plasticity and spreading ability.
The relative amounts of fatty acids with high melting point determine whether the fat will be hard or soft. Soft fat has a high content of low-melting fatty acids and at room temperature this fat has a large continuous fat phase with a low solid phase, i.e. crystallized, high-melting fat. On the other hand, in a hard fat, the solid phase of high-melting fat is much larger than the continuous fat phase of low-melting fatty acids.
In buttermaking, if the cream is always subjected to the same heat treatment it will be the chemical composition of the milk fat that determines the butter's consistency. A soft milk fat will make a soft and greasy butter, whereas butter from hard milk fat will be hard and stiff. For the heat treatment regulates the size of the fat crystals, and the relative amounts of solid fat and the continuous phase - the factors that determine the consistency of the butter.
Pasteurization causes the fat in the fat globules to liquefy. And when the cream is subsequently cooled a proportion of the fat will crystallize. If cooling is rapid, the crystals will be many and small; if gradual the yield will be fewer but larger crystals. The more violent the cooling process, the more will be the fat that will crystallize to form the solid phase, and the less the liquid fat that can be squeezed out of the fat globules during churning and working.
The crystals bind the liquid fat to their surface by adsorption. Since the total surface area is much greater if the crystals are many and small, more liquid fat will be adsorbed than if the crystals were larger and fewer. In the former case, churning and working will press only a small proportion of the liquid fat from the fat globules. The continuous fat phase will consequently be small and the butter firm. In the latter case, the opposite applies. A larger amount of liquid fat will be pressed out; the continuous phase will be large and the butter soft.
So by modifying the cooling program for the cream, it is possible to regulate the size of the crystals in the fat globules and in this way influence both the magnitude and the nature of the important continuous fat phase.
Treatment of hard fat
For optimum consistency when the butterfat is hard, most of the hardest fat must be converted to as few crystals as possible, so that little of the liquid fat is bound to the crystals. The liquid fat phase in the fat globules will thereby be maximized and much of it can be pressed out during churning and working, resulting in butter with a relatively large continuous phase of liquid fat and with the hard fat concentrated to the solid phase.
The program of treatment necessary to achieve this result comprises the following stages:
- rapid cooling to about 8°C and storage for about 2 hours at this temperature;
- heating gently to 20 - 21°C and storage at this temperature for at least 2 hours (water at 27 - 29°C is used for heating);
- cooling to about 16°C.
Cooling to about 8°C causes the formation of a large number of small crystals that bind fat from the liquid continuous phase to their surface.
When the cream is gently heated to 20 - 21°C the bulk of the crystals melt, leaving only the hard fat crystals which, during the storage period at 20 - 21°C, grow larger.
After 1 - 2 hours most of the hard fat has crystallized, binding little of the liquid fat. By dropping the temperature now to about 16°C, the hardest portion of the fat will be fixed in crystal form while the rest is liquefied. During the holding period at 16°C, fat with a melting point of 16°C or higher will be added to the crystals. The treatment has thus caused the high-melting fat to collect in large crystals with little adsorption of the low-melting liquid fat, so that a large proportion of the butter oil can be pressed out during churning and working.
Treatment of medium-hard fat
The heating temperature is accordingly reduced from 20-21°C. Consequently a larger number of fat crystals will form and more liquid fat will be adsorbed than is the case with the hard fat program.
Treatment of very soft fat
The "summer method" of treatment is used. After pasteurization the cream is cooled to 20°C. The cream is cooled to about 8 - 6°C. It is generally held that aging temperatures below the 20° level will give a soft butter.