Dairy Exhibition: Bergtheil Museum

By 18th July 2019 July 22nd, 2019 Exhibitions

The dairy exhibition at the Bergtheil Museum has a range of fascinating artefacts that takes visitors through the various historic processes involved in making dairy products. It also enables individuals to reflect on how technology, and the world around us, has evolved.

The Cream Separator

A cream separator
A cream separator

The cream separator is one of the learners’ favourite items. It’s an important machine that’s used in the beginning processes of making butter, but it’s also used for producing skim milk. Its origins can be traced back to Germany in the 1870s.

Its main function is to separate cream from milk. Milk is poured into the pan section of the cream separator and placed in a cool room, allowing the cream to rise to the top and be skimmed from the milk using a cream skimmer. The cream comes from butterfat particles contained in the milk. Water is also used to dilute the milk and speed up the separation process. Once the cream has risen, skim milk and water are drawn out through the valve at the bottom, and deposited into the milk churn. The cream is then used to make other dairy products like butter.

The Butter Churns

Paddle butter churns
Paddle butter churns

Butter churns convert cream into butter, after the cream has been left to cool. There are a two types of butter churns that can be found at the Bergtheil exhibition: a barrel-type butter churn; and paddle-type, hand-cranked butter churns, of which the museum has three examples.  Most learners seem to think that the barrel-type churn is for wine, and can’t comprehend how it could have anything to do with butter. This type of butter churn is also known as a revolving oak butter churn. The barrel has a handle, which when cranked turns the whole barrel.

Using a barrel churn to make butter was a lengthy, labour intensive process, which was eventually replaced by the paddle butter churn. The paddle churns made the butter making process much easier, and it soon became a convenient household item.

But even with this new technology the process of making butter was time-consuming, and one would need to milk a lot of cows in order to get enough cream to make butter. It was also important that the right temperature was achieved in order for the separation process to occur, without the cream spoiling.

The Butter Worker

The Arch Albany Butter Worker
The Arch Albany Butter Worker

In the middle of the diary exhibition there is a large free-standing “Butter Worker”. This machine was used to extract excess liquid from the butter. A ridged cylinder would be rolled back and forth over the butter, which would sit on the wooden tray. The Butter Worker would be used after the butter was taken out of the butter churn. Once the butter had been strained, Scotch hands (ridged wooden spatulas) or butter moulds would be used to give the butter its shape.

It is interesting how learners visiting the museum struggle to understand what these artefacts are, or to comprehend how they could have been used. But it’s also wonderful to see students asking questions about the artefacts with such excitement and enthusiasm – and looking so surprised when they find out what the items were actually used for!

This article was written by Durban Local History Museums’ Museum Officer, Ayanda Ngcobo


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