Hoeveboter ("Beurre de ferme" in French, or "farm butter" in English) has always been the typical butter of West-Flanders, and more specifically of the Westhoek. The milk that is used to make this butter is raw milk, originally coming from the Flemish Red Cow. Today, the milk is still coming partly from this indigenous breed, but most farmers keep the Holstein cows now. Cows are pastured almost all year round, as long as the weather permits so (April-November). Their feed, consisting of fresh grass and botanically diverse plants, gives a unique flavor to their milk and to the butter. Also the final color, deep yellow in late spring and paler when winter comes around, is directly influenced by their feed.
The cows are milked twice a day, and the milk is kept in a steel container up to three days. During this time, the natural lactic acid bacteria start to multiply and ferment the raw milk, thereby acidifying it. This acidification, besides allowing for special taste, also prevents potentially harmful microorganisms from growing. When enough milk is collected, the churning can start. The final phase of churning is done manually, because the perfect consistency of the hoeveboter can only be judged by an experienced hand. Salt can be added, or not. This process hasn’t changed over the last centuries, except for the fact that the farmers started to use steel equipment instead of wood.
Today, due to industrialization and taste standardization, butter has become a mass product, made in anonymous dairy industries, using milk coming from all corners of Europe. Some farmers, however, keep on producing their own butter – thereby underlining the link between the butter’s quality and the region where it was produced.
However, in West Flanders, only about ten dairy farmers still produce hoeveboter according to the traditional recipe, without adding any artificial lactic acid bacteria and rigorously using raw milk. Although they enjoy the interest of some gastronomic restaurants and aware consumers, they still have difficulties, especially the strict hygienic laws and the unfair price competition.