'Better Butter ... From Happy Cows'

ByABC News
May 28, 2006, 2:33 PM

ORWELL, Vt., June 1, 2006 — -- This tiny corner of northern Vermont has attracted the attention of celebrated big city chefs and foodies from thousands of miles away because of something they consider the best of its kind in the United States -- butter.

Diane St. Clair and her tiny herd of gentle Jersey cows produce the butter on a small farm in the shadow of the Green Mountains. And it is like none that can be found in a supermarket.

In a misty dawn, punctuated by the crows of a just wakened rooster, St. Clair leads one of her cows, its full udder nearly scraping the ground, to the barn where she milks all the cows twice a day, seven days a week. It is a tough life for St. Clair. But it's not work, it's a passion.

"What I love about it is that it's a fragile product," says St. Clair, a slim, bright-eyed woman with long, curly red hair. "The butter that people are eating reflects what's going on in my field right now."

Today the cows graze on spring grass. That means the butter will be bright yellow.

St. Clair's butter-making technique comes from a 19th-century model, not some new, highly efficient agricultural development. While commercial producers make thousands of pounds at a time by machine, she makes 60 pounds a week by hand -- the 19th-century way.

But St. Clair does not shun modern equipment. "The essence of it is the same," she says, which means hand separating the cream and milk. " My cows are eating grass, they're outside and I churn and I hand wash," to get rid of the excess milk. "It is very similar."

St. Clair's operation is organic. She doesn't use feed additives or antibiotics for the cows, nor does she rely on drugs to increase milk production. Each cow produces 55 gallons a week, topped with rich, ivory-colored cream.

In the milk room of her modest white farm house, St. Clair cultures the cream with buttermilk for a day and then churns it. What comes out this day is not only bright yellow but aromatic.

As she scoops it into baseball-size chunks, she says with glowing pride, "This is a product you're never going to see in the supermarket."

Not even renowned French butter can match it.