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

In 1938, Queen Maud died unexpectedly during a visit to the United Kingdom. But what happened to her unentombed coffin when the Germans attacked Norway in 1940?
The majestic Norwegian mountains can be treacherous - and they steal human lives every year. Study the Norwegian mountain code - and be prepared for your next journey.
Some vintage photos - and more to come.
This beautiful oil painting by Johan Christian Dahl says a lot about generations of Norwegians - and the landscape and the skills they knew.
Myrmelk is a Norwegian noun that means milk conserved in a container buried in a mountain peat bog, left there for herders or others to drink at a later stage.
Norway's mainland coastline, with its many fjords and islands, is the second longest in the world - next only to Canada. Here are some more facts for you.
Bergen is Norway's second-largest city and one of the country's oldest urban locations. The first post-viking king, Olav Kyrre, gave it market-town-status around AD 1070.
Kantslått is a Norwegian noun that means (1) the grass that is cut along the edges of a field, a road, etc. or (2) the actual process of cutting this grass. Traditionally, the grass was used as animal fodder.
With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
In the old farming society, nature dictated the flow of the working year. And farmworkers could only leave their jobs on 2 specific days during the year.
The Norwegian farm horse was a reliable and powerful companion. But by the late 1960s, they were almost all gone. Enjoy this video-collection of wonderful vintage photographs.
The Black Death – mother of all plagues - ravaged humankind in the mid-1300s. A Norwegian scholar takes us through the lead up to the disaster.
Per O. Rød wrote the history of the Stornæve farm and its inhabitants back in 1968. Decades earlier, several children of Stornæve had emigrated to the US.
In the coastal districts of the old Norway, a strandsitter was a beach dweller - who rented a small piece of land - but owned the house he built on it. His livelihood was usually connected to the sea.
In 1935, Aslaug Engnæs published a guidance book on how to milk the cow.
The horse no longer roams wild in the Norwegian landscape. But it still has an important place in the Norwegian psyche.
Are you hailing from Sykkylven in Møre og Romsdal, Norway? Well, then you might be related to the great film and television icon that was James Arness.
The most significant sections of Norwegian productive soil can be found in the counties of Trøndelag, Hedmark, Oppland and Rogaland.
In Norway, the pizza appeared as an exotic newcomer in the 1970s. But bread topped with foodstuffs is nothing new in Norwegian food history.
The hour of twilight is when the daylight starts to disappear – before it is completely dark. In the old Norwegian farming society, this was a time for rest.
With the Bronze age came a new and important phase in human history and development: mankind learned how to make tools and other objects from a metal they called bronze.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history