Butterbees in Malton, the UK's first butter boutique
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:46 05 August 2016
Let's raise a toast (we prefer wholemeal) to the UK's first butter boutique.
People venturing in to Stephen and Lucy Briden-Kenny’s shop for the first time often look a little perplexed.
They frown dubiously at Stephen as he wields his wooden paddles, stare suspiciously at Lucy as she prints out simple, self-designed labels and narrow their eyes questioningly as her sister Katie carefully stacks brown, rhomboid boxes in neat rows on the beautifully-crafted counter.
‘So,’ they inevitably ask, ‘you just sell butter then?’
Butterbees is the latest foodie offering from Malton, a town so tasty it now has its own umbrella brand Made in Malton and proudly claims to be ‘Yorkshire’s food capital’. The shop, on the upward curve of Market Street, is the UK’s first butter boutique, making fresh, handcrafted curls of the mellow yellow stuff every day.
And, yes, that’s all they do. They make and sell butter: a simple idea that’s got the whole town buzzing. But even they weren’t convinced at first.
‘We hadn’t considered a shop until Tom (Naylor-Leyland, heir to the Fitzwilliam estate which owns much of the town and is the driving force behind Malton’s food-related renaissance) convinced us,’ said Lucy, a former food blogger. ‘We thought a shop that just sold butter sounded crazy but he showed us all these pictures of French butter shops and it started to make sense.’
She started making butter at home with her husband, Stephen, who worked in a lab carrying out clinical trials, as a simple money-making exercise. And that’s precisely what it did from day one – make money.
‘We took our first commercial batch out to farm shops to test the water and came home to find orders on the answerphone, including one from Castle Howard,’ said Lucy. ‘And that was just our first day.’
So, they knew they’d stumbled on a potential gold mine (or, more accurately, yellow mine) pretty much from the off, but what they didn’t recognise at first was its life-changing potential.
The simple unhurried process of making traditional butter has made them slow down, chill out and get a better grip on what’s truly important.
‘Our process is long and gentle, but we end up with a smoother, creamier butter,’ said Stephen, a man who’s preternaturally at home in a tweed cap. ‘And, to be honest, it’s quite meditative. You can churn and chill and listen to the radio (he’s now seriously addicted to Woman’s Hour).’
Their butter begins with fresh cream delivered at 5am from local farms. They let it gradually warm up to 12 degrees, then hand-churn it in a 40-litre stainless steel churn designed by Lucy’s dad (an archaeologist who dabbles).
When the butter starts to separate and looks a bit like yellow rice, they remove the liquid buttermilk (a by-product they’re trying to find a use for) and wash the solids in cool water. This should get rid of any lingering remnants of buttermilk, which is the element that makes butter go rancid.
After a bit of kneading to work out any remaining moisture, they then squeeze and slide the butter between two ridged paddles before rolling it into a distinctive 150g ridged curl. Each one is unique, although Stephen readily admits his are more ‘unique’ than chief roller Katie’s, and lasts well in the fridge for two to three weeks (and even longer when cut into rounds and frozen).
The busy Butterbees’ team make around 50 curls a day for the shop, and about 30kg in total including their wholesale and online sales.
They offer five basic flavour profiles: paprika, black pepper and chili; unsalted; salted (by far the most popular); rosemary and garlic; and honey (which removes the need to spread butter and honey on your toast in the morning).
They also make special batches, such as Café du Malton (an homage to the Café du Paris version) which includes anchovy, lemon and Henderson’s Relish; seasonal recipes, like cranberry, orange and whisky presented in dinky little stilton pots for Christmas; and bespoke butters tailored to individual customers’ palates.
‘I sometimes let customers roll their own if they want to,’ said Stephen. ‘It doesn’t have any effect on the flavour, but things taste especially good when you’ve had a hand in making them.’
Malton is, of course, a rural town where, people used to make their own fresh butter at home. Churning, washing, kneading and shaping were skills passed down from generation to generation until one decided it was easier to buy their butter pre-wrapped from the shop.
‘Older people remember the flavour of fresh butter,’ said Lucy. ‘Their eyes light up when they taste ours for the first time because it’s something from childhood they thought they’d probably never experience again.’
Once people sample Butterbees’ butter, they buy it. Again and again. And they don’t just buy it for themselves.
‘We get a lot of repeat customers,’ said Stephen. ‘Some people buy a pack for themselves, then come back and buy packs for their whole family.’
Local B&Bs are now putting it in their welcome packs; restaurants and bakers are using it in their dishes; delis and farm shops are stocking it on their shelves; and online shoppers are filling their cyber trolleys with it. But, for Lucy and Stephen, the most satisfying sales are the ones carried out face-to-face in their shop or at the various food markets they travel to every month.
‘Stephen loves talking to customers. OK, he likes to flirt with customers,’ said Lucy. ‘The shop and the markets are his natural habitat.
‘Hovingham is a particular favourite of ours because it has a lovely atmosphere, with bunting and friendly people who love to shop. They’re all baskets, lists and bustle.’
Stephen and Lucy are the sort of Yorkshire producers who talk modestly about good luck rather than hard graft but, in their case, happenstance has played its part in their success.
They opened Butterbees in the same week that scientists turned 50 years of nutritional advice on its head by releasing a report that claimed butter and other saturated fats were not bad for our health at all and could actually help to protect our hearts.
‘People thought we’d done it on purpose but it was pure chance,’ said Lucy. ‘There’s been a lot of guilt around food for a long time, so it was nice for us to have some good news for once. People shouldn’t feel guilty about treating themselves to real, natural butter. It’s not the devil, it’s just cream.’
Stephen and Lucy have always enjoyed a deep connection with food and now have a deep – and growing – connection with Malton.
‘It would have been impossible to do this anywhere else,’ said Lucy. ‘The estate is very helpful and there’s great support from other independent producers like Roost (coffee) and Bluebird (bakery). We swap ideas, support each other on social media and all carry the Made in Malton brand.
‘We first came to Malton Food Festival in 2014, moved here in time for the 2015 festival and opened our shop for this year’s festival. We’ll have to do something really big next year. Maybe involving a cow.’