A shop selling only butter – how scrumptiously marvellous. As a lifelong butter-boy, I’d love to be able to tell you how artisan butter tastes. Sadly, during my visit there wasn’t a scrap or smear to be had anywhere. Not a lovely fat-packing blob. Lucy Briden had sold out, you see.
Lucy set up the butter-making shop in Market Street earlier this year with her husband, Steve, although the couple recently separated. Lucy bought Steve out and now runs ButterBees of Malton by herself, with help from family members.
With nothing to try, we talked about butter instead. Only first a difficult and personal matter that simply had to be broached: Does Lucy ever eat margarine?
“Not really. At my dad’s house we grew up eating marge with no salt in and at my mum’s we grew up eating salted butter,” she said. “My parents were apart by then and they had very different ideas about butter. But my dad helps me around here, so he mustn’t hate it too much now.”
And your mother?
“My mother isn’t around any more unfortunately, but she would have loved it. She would have been down here churning away. She was a big butter fan.”
Lucy, 31, is from York but now lives in Malton. She wanted to run her own business in this foodie town and chose to make butter mostly for pragmatic reasons. “We just knew there wasn’t anyone else in the area doing it, although there were a couple of people across the country making artisan butter.”
But as far as she knows ButterBees is the only butter shop in the country. This is ironic in a way as while Lucy was keen to make butter her business, she wasn’t sure about a shop selling nothing but butter. “I was a bit sceptical,” she said. “I thought people would think it was odd.”
Lucy was persuaded by Tom Naylor-Leyland, who runs the Fitzwilliam Malton estate and is the man largely responsible for this market town’s revival as food central. “Tom showed me pictures of the Maison du Beurre in France and that convinced me,” she said.
Lucy had been training to be a solicitor but wanted to run her own food business rather than work for other people. She settled on Malton because “it’s a really good incubator for a food business”.
Opposite her shop an alleyway runs to the Talbot Yard Food Court, where assorted food businesses, including an ice-cream parlour, fresh pasta maker, artisan baker, coffee roaster and butcher, are gathered together like calories in a cake.
Once she opened the shop, Lucy enjoyed the daily contact with people. “Originally we were doing it from home and we only ever saw the wholesaler each morning and people at the market on Saturday. But now we can chat to people all day. We have regulars who come in and buy the same thing every week and it’s nice to be a shopkeeper, especially in Malton because it is still a shopkeeper’s town.”
People in the town of shopkeepers seem to have taken to what she produces. “There are lots of traditional people in Malton, lots of farmers, and they’re pretty set on eating butter over margarine. I would say the older generation are our biggest fans. They say: ‘Is it farm butter?’”
Lucy had to ask what they meant at first, and realised that they were referring to butter that’s made freshly. Which hers is, although it isn’t made on a farm but in the shop, often in the window. Once churned, the butter is rolled out on grease-proof paper covering the counter, a long piece of wood cut from a beech tree felled in Dalby Forest. Still with its bark, the counter was made by the Woodlark furniture makers of Malton.
A customer who popped in the other day said she made her own butter, so Lucy gave her some tips. As I make my own bread, perhaps I should have a go, too. Is that possible, Lucy?
“Oh definitely, all you need is double cream or whipping cream and you take it way past whipped.”
Lucy uses a fairly basic piece of kit. “It’s just a steel tub which rotates and we have a large industrial whisk to help if it is too cold. But essentially it is all done with gravity and centrifugal force. You just need to agitate cream in order for it to turn to butter.
“Keep going and then it will split into butter and the buttermilk. You can keep that buttermilk but it will go off. The fat side is the butter and that will last a lot longer.”
After that you rinse the butter in cold water to remove any impurities, then squeeze until the water runs clear. Salt is added before the butter is shaped and packed. And never mind the preferences of us unsalted few: more than 90 per cent of the butter Lucy sells is salted. She also makes a Sunday roast butter, a paprika and chilli butter and a honey one – “and we’ve just started doing a cinnamon and brown sugar one”.
Her only notable failure to date was an experiment with dill butter. “I used fresh dill and that was really horrible. It’s such a soft herb it didn’t really last. The dill wilts and yellows.”
She is at her busiest on a Friday. The cream is delivered at around six in the morning and has to be left to warm up. “If it’s cold it will take forever, so it needs to come up to room temperature. And we’ll start then.”
Lucy’s butter is for sale online and wholesale orders go out every Thursday to shops including Henshelwoods in York, Pride & Produce in Leeds and the Haxby Baker’s deli in Haxby, York.
The online butter is packed to preserve its freshness and posted out overnight, although you have to be in – possibly with piece of toast at the ready – as the packets won’t fit through the letterbox.
With the main ingredient for butter being cream, Lucy’s greatest challenge is finding a steady supply of the lovely stuff. At present it comes from sources including Acorn Dairies near Northallerton, and sometimes from St Quintin’s Farm, in East Yorkshire. “That’s an amazing organic farm on the way to Beverley. We’ll have a different packet for that butter because it’s noticeably different, really yellow.”
Lately butter seems to be having a moment. Just as Lucy went into business, the National Obesity Forum released a report suggesting that eating fat such as butter was better for you than eating low-fat spreads. While this might sound like salted good sense to butter fans everywhere, the report caused a spat among experts who disagreed with its findings. “I don’t really know the science behind it,” said Lucy. “But people enjoy eating our butter and given our price point, our butter is seen as a treat anyway.
“People freeze it and take it out when they want something special. It costs £3.50 for 150 grams and people seem happy to pay that. Nobody asks and then doesn’t pay it. But we’re not an everyday thing. I wouldn’t eat butter every day.”
At the end of the working day butter can be the last thing Lucy fancies. “Some days I just want a salad,” she said.
But as the American chef Julia Child, whose life inspired the film Julie & Julia, once said: “With enough butter, anything is good.”
Although whether she had salads in mind is not recorded.
To order online or to contact Lucy Briden, visit butter-bees.co.uk. Any dairy that could supply Lucy with cream can also reach her by the website.