Homestead | making butter the old way | Norway

For the old Norwegians, making butter was simply a way of preserving the fresh summer milk - turning it into a type of food that could be stored.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
This beautiful painting - "Woman churning butter" - was painted by the Norwegian artist Gustav Wentzel in 1920. The location is the farm Hunn i Lia, Lom, Oppland, Norway. | Nasjonalgalleriet - public domain.
This beautiful painting - "Woman churning butter" - was painted by the Norwegian artist Gustav Wentzel in 1920. The location is the farm Hunn i Lia, Lom, Oppland, Norway. | Nasjonalgalleriet - public domain.

Pronunciation

Butter = Smør

Food preservation

The short and intense summer was all about food production – and food preservation. What we see as delicious foods today – cheese, butter, flatbread, smoked fish and so much more – are in fact all nothing but ways to preserve food.

Preparing the milk

The Norwegians primarily made butter from milk coming from the domesticated cow – preferably soured milk. After milking, the milkmaid sifted the fresh milk through a simple wooden sieve to remove any unwanted content. She covered the sieve with a filter made from hair coming from the cow’s tail. She then stored the milk in a wooden container in a cool place. After a while, the cream – being the fattest and the least dense part of the milk – separated and floated to the top. The sourer the cream, the easier it was to scoop up from the wooden container. Only the cream was used in the butter-making process. To make 1 kilo of butter, you had to start out with around 30 litres of whole or full-fat milk.

A wooden container used for storing milk. The cream is less dense than the rest of the milk, and would float to the top of the container. From before 1927 and originates from Hemsedal, Buskerud, Norway. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harrriss Norsk Folkemuseum - digitaltmuaum.no - cc by-sa.

A wooden container used for storing milk. The cream is less dense than the rest of the milk, and would float to the top of the container. From before 1927 and originates from Hemsedal, Buskerud, Norway. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harrriss Norsk Folkemuseum – digitaltmuaum.no – cc by-sa.The milkmaid left the milk and cream to naturally sour for a week or more.

The churning

When there was enough cream, the milkmaid poured it into a thoroughly cleaned butter churn and started pulling and pushing the plunger up and down in rhythmic movements. The process could take an hour or more and was hard work. When doing it correctly, there should be a rumbling sound. It had to be done just right: not too fast, and not too slow. Otherwise, the cream would not turn into butter. With the constant movements, yellowish lumps started to emerge. At the end of the process, the churn would contain two elements: butter and buttermilk. The butter was scooped up and put into a wooden bowl. The Norwegians used the buttermilk as a drink – often mixed with water – or as an ingredient in porridge, soups, bread and so on.

Old butter churn dated 1850. The wooden stick used to make the butter is called a plunger. From Finnmark, Norway. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfelt Norsk Folkemuseum - digitaltmuseum.no NFSA.0140AB - cc by-sa.

Old butter churn dated 1850. The wooden stick used to make the butter is called a plunger. From Finnmark, Norway. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfelt Norsk Folkemuseum – digitaltmuseum.no NFSA.0140AB – cc by-sa.

Removing all traces of buttermilk

The next step in the process was to knead and wash the butter thoroughly in a wooden bowl – using clean water – making sure that there were no traces of buttermilk left. This was very important, as the buttermilk would make the finished product go bad.

Adding salt

Now, the milkmaid added salt. The salt acted as a preservative. The more salt, the longer the butter stayed edible. 50-60 gram per 1 kilo butter is necessary for butter meant for storage. Otherwise as little as half that amount.

Storage

The last part of the operation was to put the finished product into wooden storage containers. Again, the milkmaid washed them thoroughly – and rubbed plenty of salt into the inside surfaces. She had to pack the butter firmly into each container with her hand, making sure that there were no bubbles of air inside. This was to avoid any room for the wrong sort of bacteria.

Means of payment

In earlier times, people used butter as a means of payment – or for barter. Old Norwegian records often list a certain amount of butter as the appropriate payment for taxes to the crown.

The below video comes from the vaults of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – the NRK. Sadly, the audio is in Norwegian only, with no subtitles, but the visuals and our text above will help guide you through an interesting story. Used by permission – all rights reserved.

 

Did you see this one?
The Norwegian horse and its history – part 1

Main sources: «Gammel norsk bondekost» – Ingrid Andersen 1965. | «Husmorboken» – J.W.Cappelens Forlag 1938.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

The Fjord horse is one of today’s oldest and purest horse breeds. Its historical habitat is Norway's western coast, with its deep fjords and steep mountainsides.
The traditional Norwegians are drawn to their cabins, whether it be in the mountains, in the forest, or by the sea. Some would say that they are a people obsessed.
Do you know the name of Norway’s capital city? Test yourself, friends, and family in this 10 multiple-choice questions quiz vol. 1. See the correct answer below each photo.
The first half of the 1900s came with a momentous change to Norwegian society. The old ways of the ancient hunting and farming culture were rapidly dying.
After the end of World War 2, the Norwegians all took part in lifting their country well and truly into the 20th century.
Old objects tell stories, silent stories about a time gone by.
In the spring, the Norwegian mountain-snow melts and turns into creeks, rivers and magnificent waterfalls.
Uff da! is a Norwegian interjection, often used to express sympathy. For example when a child falls over: Uff da! Slo du deg? - meaning Poor you! Did you hurt yourself?
This beautiful oil painting by Johan Christian Dahl says a lot about generations of Norwegians - and the landscape and the skills they knew.
For thousands of years, milk from the domesticated animals has had a dominant position in the Norwegian diet. People used milk from the cow, the reindeer, the sheep and the goat.
One of the oldest Norwegian instruments is the birch trumpet. But is it really an instrument at all - or did it originally have a completely different purpose?
Oslo is the capital city of Norway. It was founded in AD 1048 by the Viking king Harald Hardråde. Historically, the city is also known as Christiania or Kristiania.
The old Norwegian farming society was a self-sufficient and balanced world. Coins and notes were all but an alien concept.
When I was a boy, it was the workhorse that pulled the heaviest weight in agricultural life. And this had been the reality for as long as anyone could remember.
With this old photograph in my hand I have set myself a task: how much information can I find in Norwegian online archives based on what the photo tells me?
In Norway, the first traces of iron date back to 400-300 BC. The country has significant iron resources, and making tools and weapons from this new metal was a significant step forward.
Our foremothers were hardworking and inventive. Here you can read more about how the laundry was done on a Norwegian mountain farm in the late 1800s.
Norway’s full independence came in AD 1905, and was the culmination of a process that had lasted for several decades.
The rose painted chests of Norway - a treasure that will live for centuries to come.
In the old Norwegian farming society, a husmann was a man who was allowed to build his home on a small section of a farm’s land, and pay with his labour instead of rent.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history