Twice a day, three times a week, they’re churning butter in a Doraville industrial office park. They’re fermenting cream for 24 to 36 hours at a time. And packaging up that butter in 1/2 ounce pats and 1-, 2- and 5-ounce rounds, each wrapped in foil and topped with a paper label that tell the customer the butter is “small-batch cultured” from cream from grass-fed cows.
The stainless steel kitchen off I-85 is the home of Banner Butter, born of a love for an item that many think of as just another ingredient for baking cookies.
Drew McBath freely admits he and his wife Elizabeth love butter. They love it so much they wanted to make their own and began the process at home, culturing cream in a Mason jar and “‘churning” butter in a food processor or blender. (Culturing cream is the process of adding an acid-producing culture to cream that gives the resulting butter a naturally fermented flavor.)
Their love of butter took them to Brittany, France, which McBath refers to as the “epicenter of butter making” and they visited small creameries at home and abroad. Everything they did convinced them they wanted to make a product that would help people see butter as more than a commodity.
“We wanted to provide people with butter that tasted really, really good. Butter that had a delicious taste and texture,” says McBath as he describes the process that took the couple from Banner Butter – the purveyors of a few compound butters – to Banner Butter, the producer of about 800 pounds of butter a week in salted and unsalted varieties and available flavored with cinnamon or roasted garlic and occasional seasonal flavors like Red Pepper Mash.
Gigantic dairies produce incredible amounts of butter with tractor trailer-sized continuous butter churns. Andrew refers to this as “big butter” and acknowledges the consistency of the product they produce day in and day out.
But the McBaths wanted butter that had flavor that reflected the changes in milk that come with the seasons. They wanted to produce butter that got its nutritional value from the milk of grass-fed cows. They wanted butter that had a creamy texture that came from being worked precisely and that was packaged in a foil wrapper that kept it fresh without need for preservatives.
The McBaths left the Mason jars and blenders behind and began their business with a small Amish churn that held 10 gallons of cream at a time. In 2014, they began selling their handmade butter at local farmers markets. “We’d make about 40 pounds of butter per session and sell it at the Saturday morning Peachtree Road Farmers Market.”
Now Banner Butter uses a churn that holds 50 pounds of cream and soon they’ll be adding a centrifugal batch churn from the Netherlands that will allow them to increase their production “geometrically” as McBath says. There’s a staff – Millie Turner, their manager of operations, and Carolina Pauccar, in charge of kitchen operations – as well as part time help. And McBath quit his day job to focus full time on the business.
They source their cream from Georgia farms. The cream is processed by Atlanta Fresh. “We wanted milk that was from grass-fed cows and where the cows were humanely treated. Atlanta Fresh has done a good job of finding those farms.”
Because what the cows eat changes in flavor, their cream does as well. “Cows in a feedlot eat the same thing over and over. It’s certainly different for grass-fed cows and we can see and smell the difference in the cream.”
And now they’re selling at the Sandy Springs, Ponce City Farmers Market on the Beltline, Grant Park and Avondale Estates markets as well as continuing at Peachtree Road. Their butter is available at Whole Foods Markets and online through Nature’s Garden Express and Fresh Harvest. Their butter is served on Delta Airlines and in restaurants from Atlanta to Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Lucky room service guests at Loews Hotels get 1-ounce butter rounds with their delivery of toast and muffins.
“Small-batch butter made with patiently-cultured cream from hormone-free, grass-fed cows that live near you.” That’s the Banner Butter motto. We’d add, “and is made near you.”