Q&A with Decatur founder of Banner Butter
By Dena Mellick, Associate editor
Decatur has a way of attracting food artisans, and that includes the owners of Banner Butter.
Elizabeth and Drew McBath live in downtown Decatur and create small-batch, cultured butter. “We start with cream from Georgia, grass-fed cows, and then we let the cream ripen before we churn it, so that good bacteria forms,” Elizabeth McBath said. “It is this ripening process that results in our product being a cultured butter (as opposed to most American butter, which is sweet cream butter and where the manufacturer often has to spray flavoring on their product to give it taste). We’ve been growing quickly around the South.”
Banner Butter is produced in Doraville, but the McBaths are natives to Decatur and Atlanta. The butter is sold at the Avondale Estates Farmers Market, Oakhurst Market, Wahoo Wine and Provisions, the Mercantile on DeKalb Avenue, and Whole Foods on Briarcliff Rd.
Decaturish asked co-founder Elizabeth McBath more about the company and the business of butter.
Q: How did you get into the butter business?
A: “My husband, Andrew McBath, and I started Banner Butter. We began churning our small-batch, cultured butter in 2014. At that time, Drew was working full-time in marketing for a corporation, and I was (and still am!) practicing law full-time. In January of this year, Andrew quit his corporate job and dove into Banner Butter full-time. It’s really his baby, so you can refer to him as the founder. I guess we’re co-founders, though.
Drew has an MBA from the University of Texas and has always wanted to own his own food business. He saved for many, many years until we were finally ready to make the plunge.
We chose to make butter because we love it and also because we feel like Americans have lost our way a bit with it. Most of us from the South know that our great grandma churned the family’s butter herself. When she did, she was making cultured butter. When butter became mass produced, though, the large butter-making company didn’t have time to culture the cream before churning it, and so our traditional cultured butter soon turned into a quick-making sweet cream butter. Because this type of butter has very little taste, many American butter makers spray flavoring on their butter to give it taste. Because we are reclaiming the lost art of butter making, we don’t need to spray flavoring; our cultured butter is all-natural and full of flavor.
We also wanted to make a statement about the larger picture – the way we crave our lives to be: slower than it currently is, embracing the simple and beautiful things around us.”
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Q: How else is Banner Butter different?
A: “We’re different in several ways.
First, as explained above, we make butter the old-fashioned way, in small batches.
Second, we source our cream from Georgia farms that treat their cows humanely and grass feed them year-round. We are committed to ensuring that the animals whose cream we use are treated well. There’s a nutritional benefit too when we consume butter made from cows that have grazed on green pastures.
Third, once we receive this super-fresh cream, we patiently let it culture. During this culturing process, good bacteria forms. This is why we are called a ‘cultured butter,’ as opposed to a sweet cream butter. Our grandmas’ hand-churned cultured butter. And if you have ever traveled to France or Italy, you’ve likely had cultured butter.
Fourth, the fact that our butter is cultured means that it’s packed with natural flavor, and it’s the creamiest butter you’ve ever had.
Fifth, in addition to our Unsalted and Sea Salt cultured butter, we also offer a variety of compound butters, where we have fun with different ingredients, and highlight what’s in season at any moment.
Finally, we lovingly hand package the final product.”
Q: Does butter get a bad rap?
A: “Butter has definitely gotten a bad rap over the years, but fortunately studies are now showing what we’ve instinctually known all along: that anything so natural is going to be good for you. Butter has made national, front page headlines over the past few years, as scientists are now trying to dispel the bad-rap myths. Check out this article from The Wall Street Journal and this one from The New York Times.”
Q: What are the current flavors or compounds? What is your favorite?
A: “Our butter line-up throughout the entire year consists of: Unsalted Butter, Sea Salt Butter, Roasted Garlic, Basil and Parsley Butter, and Cinnamon Cardamom Ginger Butter.
Our current seasonal compound is a collaboration between us and two Charleston companies: Bulls Bay Saltworks and Red Clay Hot Sauce. We’re calling it a Red Pepper Mash butter and have affectionately dubbed it the rowdy American cousin to French Espelette butter.
My favorite is Sea Salt. Andrew’s is Unsalted. I guess we’re purists.”
Q: How do you and your family use the butter?
A: “On anything and everything really.”
Q: What are your goals for Banner Butter?
A: “One day we would like to have a facility that allows us to give tours to the public, educating on the lost art of butter making. I would love for that facility to also have a retail front.”
Q: What’s the worst part about having a butter business? What is the best part?
A: “Worst part: The inherent stress that comes along with starting your own business.
Best part: The people you meet along the way!”