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Adventures in Butter

When we first moved to China, the only butter available in our city was a tiny blue cube which yielded less than 1 cup of creamy, dairy goodness.

It seemed like overnight, butter in Yichang had risen in price to 11.50RMB per 125gram ($1.60 per stick).

Suddenly, baking was expensive.

Our world was rocked.

2008-03-20@17-59-45
It was time for drastic measures. I traveled 5 hours to our provincial capital, Wuhan, to buy a 10KG block of butter, which came out to a marginally better price of 9.12RMB per 125grams.

2005-11-30@19-10-56
11.30.2005
However, since Chinese don’t buy butter all that often, this big 10lb block was freezer burned. I had to shave off the outer layer before cutting it into smaller cubes.

Once I managed to get the big block home, I took it over to a local bakery and used their digital scale to cut the block into 40 – 1 cup portions. I got lots of stares on the way — tall foreigner walking across campus with an enormous block of butter and a large knife. Thirty minutes later, our freezer was stocked with butter.

A few years later, we found a dairy where we could get fresh cows milk. In an effort to save money and time we tried making our own butter.

2009-03-12@15-03-57
03.12.09
You start with a jar halfway filled with fresh milk.

2009-03-06@08-41-06
You shake for a long time.

2009-03-12@15-09-12
Ah! It’s starting to churn!

2009-03-12@15-11-00
A few more shakes and things start to separate.

2009-03-12@15-12-31
Put it in a bowl and rub it against the sides to squeeze the whey out.

2009-03-06@19-45-15
Finally, it’s done! However, 20 minutes of effort produced 1/3 cup butter. Not very rich milk, I guess. While it tasted pretty good, it wouldn’t be very fun hand-churning 22 pounds of butter in a small jar.

2010-11-09@12-23-35
11.09.10
Almost two years later, we discovered the jewel of expat-dom: Taobao.com. This Chinese Ebay/Etsy website allows one to purchase nearly anything at competitive prices and have it delivered to your door for extremely cheap shipping two days later. We ordered butter. Brilliant!

2010-11-09@12-28-02
It comes well insulated and already conveniently portioned into 1/2lb blocks.

2010-11-09@12-29-13
Of course, ordering butter online, really only works in the cooler months. So, when we run out of butter at the beginning of summer we generally have to wait until the whether is cool again before we can resupply. (In the meantime, we get creative with oil.)

2010-11-09@12-29-19
Butter. Who’d have thought what lengths we would go through to procure such a staple of American baking?

2 comments to Adventures in Butter

  • There was a butter shortage in Japan a few years ago. Grocery stores – when they had it in stock – had signs saying, “Limit one package.” You can imagine my sheer delight, after this had been going on for a few months, when I noticed a sign on the freezer door in Costco for NZ butter. Then I saw it was for a case – bigger than your 10# block. Yay for butter!

  • Cheryl

    I’d love to know which shop you buy from.

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