My question engages in the history of butter. I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask but I will give it a try.

I read an old Jewish text (Sharei Dura 78) dated to the 13th century that mentions English butter which was mixed with whey or buttermilk (text is unclear) while discussing its permissibility for consumption. It also relates that the buttermilk could potentially evaporate from the butter after four days, which in turn would make the butter dry.

This made me wonder how the buttermilk was added to the butter, did they actually mix the buttermilk in the butter (meaning that the buttermilk curdled along with the butter and became part of it), or was it something separate in which the butter sat in (similar to cheese in brine), which would somewhat explain the evaporation of the buttermilk? Is there any evidence as to how this process was done in the olden days?

I would also like to know whether the practice of adding buttermilk to butter is still practiced nowadays (commercially or non-commercially)?

If anyone can shed light on any of these points I would be grateful.

  • Not just because old and now terms might be divergent, can you link to the text you are reading that made you ask this and how en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butter#Whey_butter isn't satisfying? Jun 13, 2018 at 5:37
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    Just basic butter/cheese-making. Butter is a lump - it's not clear how you could add whey or have it dry out. Cheese on the other hand is made from the separation of curds and whey and is initially wet. Jun 13, 2018 at 15:21
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    And as I commented: in modern terminology that is wrong. Butter does not leave whey behind but buttermilk, whey is left from many cheese processes. That's why we might benefit from the actual text to see if there is a similar mixup or change in definitions, terminology or translations. Jun 13, 2018 at 17:24
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    @LangLangC given the broad terminology of the Hebrew language I think it could be referring to buttermilk as well, the term probably just refers to any watery milky residue that was separated from the milk. The original Hebrew word the author uses is נסיובי דחלבא, if that means anything to you.
    – Bach
    Jun 13, 2018 at 17:44
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    That is actually no Hebrew but Latin, "serum (de) alba"? Jun 13, 2018 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


My mother used to churn butter while growing up on the farm in Pennsylvania, during the 1920s and 1930s. The process of making butter leaves whey behind, so it the mixing of the two can happen if the process is not taken to completion.

I found this question interesting, so looked for examples of whey butter. I found this book, printed in 1905, for you to read:

The manufacture of whey butter at Swiss cheese factories, Volumes 130-145

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    Peter thanks for your time. I also found whey butter on google, but whey butter the butter seems to be made from the whey, however in my case the whey was only added to the butter (probably in the middle of the curdling process) later, so i'm not sure if the whey actually curdled along with the butter or maybe not.
    – Bach
    Jun 13, 2018 at 0:16
  • When butter is made via the usual process it leaves behind buttermilk, whey is lef when making cheese. Maybe the link-only ref can clear this up if you quote that here? Jun 13, 2018 at 5:33

Whey cream and butter have a lower fat content and taste more salty, tangy and "cheesy".

From Wikipedia on whey butter. That may partially address the why.

Whey also has high quality protein, although not really much in its fresh form:

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 112 kJ (27 kcal)
Carbohydrates 5.14 g, in the form of mainly lactose:
__Sugars 5.14 g,
Fat 0.36 g,
Protein 0.85 g,
Calcium 47 mg
Water 93.12 g

If the water content is reduced or removed the relative amount of high quality protein rises to 13% and the resulting powder has a much longer shelf-life.

Since there were times when whey was simply discarded as waste, adding dried whey to anything is a very cheap protein booster.

Whey butter has got to be good for people who need lots of energy and protein. It is possible that such a combination is even more important when there are dietary restrictions against mixing meat & dairy. I no longer study kosher law, but I seem to recall that rennet is a meat product. If I am correct, then cheese making is more difficult, in which case there may be additional value in "cheesy" whey butter.

Industrial scale butter production involves extracting small amounts of cream from whey, a by-product of cheese-making, and cultures are then added to the cream to improve longevity. Continuous churns are used, with the capacity to produce 22,000 lb of butter per hour. It results in a consistent if perhaps uninspiring product, but there are still companies around making butter the old fashioned way.
BBC Food blog: In praise of British butter, 2012

(I am on a cellphone, so citations are tough)

  • Mark thanks for your time. How do you explain the evaporation of the whey? Consider adding an explanation to ur post.
    – Bach
    Jun 13, 2018 at 14:20
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    This book seems good on the subject, but I can't access it, do you? Jun 13, 2018 at 15:41
  • Also without access to me: "For total exploitation of cow's milk […] whey butter [… -> 1t of cheese more]" and since it is from Hebrew: "butter" is most often better translated as ghee, or butter from which the water is also evaporated. Jun 13, 2018 at 17:01
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    @LangLangC your conflating biblical Hebrew with medieval Hebrew, which is like two different languages! Furthermore, the author identifies it by the modern "butre", so it is clearly some king of butter, though I would like to know what "butter" really meant in medieval Germany. Maybe it was a kind of cheese as others suggested, i'm just lacking the evidence.
    – Bach
    Jun 13, 2018 at 17:28
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    @Bach It's true that I know very little of the intervening development between ancient and Ivrit, but I am not saying it is talking about ghee but that there may be a religious text with imprecision regarding modern food processing definitions. That is I'm trying to deflate that issue. Jun 13, 2018 at 17:33

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