Local Love: Banner Butter
Food tradition and culture is rich in the South. Some of it is antiquated, some of it is downright strange, and some of it is absolutely wonderful. While this region isn’t known for its willingness to change, there are a lot of movers and shakers doing really great things to preserve, advance, and change the way food is produced, eaten, and perceived in the South. I decided to start a new blog segment called “local love” to highlight some of my favorite local food companies that the South should be proud to have. My hope is to dig into the stories of these companies and to share the how and why of what they’re doing (plus how you can get your hands on their products).
First up: Banner Butter (Atlanta, GA)
I have my mom to thank for cultivating in me a palate that expects nothing short of real ingredients, especially as it concerns butter. Only in the past few years did I realize that growing up eating almost exclusively real butter–as opposed to margarine–put my family in the minority during my childhood in the 90s. According to an NPR survey, only about 30 percent of US households were using real butter in the early 1990s. Side note: there’s a great NPR podcast that curates all of their various food-related stories from each week, like the one I just mentioned (search “NPR food” under podcasts). While the merits of butter are still hotly debated among health and nutrition experts (along with just about every type of food), more and more Americans are turning back to butter. My mom’s insistence on “the real thing,” instilled in me a respect and love for butter, so when I first tasted Banner Butter, I knew I’d found a good thing. A really good thing. I visited Banner Butter’s Atlanta-area kitchen last fall to see the way that they do things and ask a million questions.
Drew and Elizabeth McBath are the powerhouse couple behind Banner Butter, along with a whole team of other super awesome folks. Both self-professed lovers of food, they knew they wanted to one day own a food business together. Seeing a void in the butter market, they took a chance and started Banner Butter, a company which, “strives to create butters that taste great by doing it the right way.” In North America, mass-produced, non-cultured or “sweet cream” butter makes up the vast majority of the market. Cultured or “European style” butter, which is richer, smoother, and more time-consuming to make, is a novelty that can be difficult to find. While Banner Butter isn’t trying to take over the American butter market, they are certainly making waves in the South.
When the McBaths started researching the butter-making process, almost all of the information they found was for large-scale operations. They had to go all the way back to literature from the early 20th century for useful instructions. This void of information only reconfirmed to them the need for a small-batch, cultured butter maker. It also meant that they had to experiment with and evaluate every detail of Banner Butter’s process, deciding for themselves the best method. While the trial-and-error process was and still is undoubtedly frustrating at times, I can say with confidence that it has paid off.
Banner Butter’s commitment to the quality and integrity of their butter starts long before churning begins. They carefully source grass-fed cream from local dairies that treat their cows well and never use added hormones. Next they culture the cream–adding a mix of bacteria similar to what’s used in yogurt–which lends the incredibly rich flavor and extra creamy texture to the finished butter. The culturing process is one they’ve worked long and hard to perfect; things like the length of time the cream is cultured, the temperature at which it’s cultured, and the resulting pH have a big impact on the final product (among other factors). After the cream is cultured to their high standards, 20 gallons of it are added to a giant churn that produces about 80 pounds of butter and lots of deliciously tangy buttermilk, the natural byproduct of butter-making. While still in the churn, the butter is painstakingly rinsed with spring water and worked–over and over–to ensure a velvety texture and clean, pure butter that won’t spoil quickly. Once the butter is rinsed and slowly worked, it’s ready to be mixed with sea salt, spices, fun pairings like balsamic figs & caramelized onions, or other seasonal goodies. Lastly, the butter is formed, cut, weighed, packaged, and distributed to various restaurants, shops, businesses, and farmers markets throughout the Southeast.
What comes next is the very best part: eating it! That, my friends, is something that I hope you will not just take my word for. If somehow you’re not already convinced, I’ll leave you with one more story. I recently saw one of the guests from a dinner I hosted last fall where I served Banner Butter. He said, “the food was all great, but what I really remember is the butter.” If that’s not an incredible endorsement and evidence of their quality, I don’t know what is! So let’s get cultured, y’all!
For information on where to purchase Banner Butter, check their ever-growing Find Us section on their website, sign up for their email list, or like their Facebook page for updates. The cinnamon, cardamom & ginger butter is one of my personal favorites!
I especially recommend trying their products in my recipes for dried cherry butter or peach + cardamom + vanilla butter, on these buttermilk winter squash waffles or whole grain ginger + lemon scones, or in any recipe involving browned butter.
I pursued this story on my own accord and was not compensated for it. These are all my own opinions!