March 10, 2010
Few things taste better than crusty bread spread with butter. Real butter. Many families have banned bread and butter from their tables, but restaurants are serving premium butters again, rather than presenting little dishes of olive oil. We tasted seven brands of unsalted butter, first just the butter, then some of it on a slice of rustic bread. It was a decadent event.
Three of the American brands are made in New England: Kate’s Homemade Butter in Maine; Vermont Cultured Butter, European Style; and High Lawn Farm Unsalted Butter in Lee. Two were imported, from France and Ireland.
Plugrá European Style, made in Winnsboro, Texas, was the big winner. A Belgian taster wondered if the name were taken from the French “plus gras,’’ which means more fat. In this case it was more taste. American regulations require 80 percent butter fat in a product for it to be called butter. European-style butter generally has 85 percent butter fat and is churned, which lowers the moisture, making it very good for using in browning and baking.
With its deep hue, Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter looked like it had been dipped in a pot of gold. It was least favorite. According to the company’s website, cows munch on grass rich in beta carotene. One taster said it was the color of “cinema buttered popcorn’’ and others didn’t like it, either.
Some butters were cultured, which means a slight fermentation of the cream or milk, giving them a soft tang. Several tasters picked up on this – but not in a good way; they thought the butters were “off.’’ All were well within their sell-by dates.
Ingredients typically listed just one word: milk or cream. What a relief. And without salt, noted one in the group, the taste was “more genuine.’’ Please pass the bread.
Plugrá European Style WINNER!
$4.99 for 8 ounces
“My favorite butter from France’’; “French or European,’’ declared two tasters. This is an American-made butter, which comes in a half-pound rectangle. Plugrá is part of Keller’s Creamery, which represents several brands (Breakstone and Borden’s among them) and is part of the cooperative Dairy Farmers of America. The website says the butter has 82 percent butterfat and is “churned in the old world style’’ which adds more air and makes it less moist. Our tasters enjoyed it. “The sweet pleasant mild flavor and perfect color.’’ “Best color and texture.’’ “Like the shape.’’ “Creamy nice texture and nice taste.’’ One said “fattier.’’
Celles sur Belle
Premium Churn Unsalted Butter
$4.29 for 8 ounces
This butter from the Poitou-Charentes region in western France comes in a rectangular shape. It was instantly identified as a European brand by several and had one favorite vote: “Import quality, not American butter.’’ The texture was described as “creamy’’ by several people. Others commented: “Light and mild taste,’’ “pale yellow and pale taste,’’ “sweet, delicious and mild.’’ The color worked against the brand for one: “Pale color. Looks like lard.’’
High Lawn Farm
$5.99 for 16 ounces
This home-grown company from Lee got low marks for its packaging. “The fact that this butter is in a tub works against it. You take it less seriously because of that.’’ “Reminds me of margarine.’’ People found the taste “average,’’ “not much flavor,’’ “airy.’’ Some found the texture “heavy and hard,’’ “brittle,’’ “OK on bread.’’
Kate’s Homemade Butter
$5.39 for 16 ounces
Little Kate and her red kerchief are very appealing on this Maine butter, which comes in a box with four 4-ounce bars. Most tasters found it lacking in flavor: “Least buttery,’’ “not much taste,’’ “short on flavor.’’ Many liked the texture: “Very creamy and smooth,’’ “creamiest,’’ “tastes good with bread.’’
Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter
$2.69 for 8 ounces
Kerrygold is made in a rectangular shape. Those happy grass-fed Emerald Isle cows produce a very golden butter, whose color was a detraction. “Looks like margarine.’’ “Very yellow; oily with a margarine taste.’’ “Yellow. Strange aftertaste when tasted alone. Less pronounced when eaten with bread.’’ Others: “I like the look that is more yellow. Tastes better with bread.’’ “Nice color, great taste.’’ Two said the texture was “oily,’’ “greasy.’’ “It left a film on my tongue.’’ “A bit of a smell (buttery?) which I didn’t find that pleasing but it definitely tasted good on the bread.’’
Unsalted Sweet Butter
$2.50 for 16 ounces
The brand with the iconic (and controversial) Native American woman kneeling before a lake is the butter most Americans know best. “Subtle smell. Smooth and velvety. Tastes like the brand I usually eat? Pleasant both on and off bread.’’ Most noted its taste: “Light, not full flavor.’’ “Sweet and mild.’’ “Watery flavor.’’ “I can taste vegetable oil.’’ The color was described as “pale.’’ On the texture: “Bit of an oily aftertaste.’’ “Creamy mouth feel.’’
Vermont Cultured Butter
$4.99 for 8 ounces
This butter comes in a half-pound cylinder. “Surprised this tasted sour in comparison to others. I believe this is from Normandy and I usually love their butter.’’ (It’s made in Vermont.) “A little too oily. Better for cooking than eating, but good taste.’’ “Soft, smooth, melts in your mouth, spreadable.’’ As for flavor: “Bland, fat taste.’’ “Mild. No aftertaste.’’ “Not much taste on bread either. Greasier.’’ The appearance put one off: “Looks like a yellow sausage tube.’’