Perhaps you need to be a cookbook “reader”… poring obsessively over page after page of text and pics… to be interested in tasting butter. I’m not talking about voicing a simple preference for one commercial butter over another. I mean tasting in the sense of peeling through the layers of flavors and seasoning as one would a glass of wine.
Butter Tasting 101 for those of us interested in acquiring basic tasting skills was kindly provided by Melissa Clark (whose job I openly covet) of the New York Times. She employed Frank Bruni and Florence Fabricant of the Times plus Margaret Braun, a wedding cake maker and Adam Moskowitz, a cheese importer, to sample 13 kinds of cultured butter, including her own. Check the video out. Cultured butter, that is, butter that is made either from non-pasteurized cream or has an acid added to it (“cultured or fermented”), is a staple in Europe, and has a deeper, much more nuanced flavor.
European butter is not a new trend in this country. More than ten years ago, a small handful of people in this country discovered the higher fat content butter (82-86% vs 80%, says the Times), and began, one person at a time, to replicate it.
When Ruby and I discussed cultured butter tonight at dinner, she recanted verbatim what the Times wrote: ” … most butter in the United States was made with cultured (also called clabbered) cream. Fresh cream from the evening milking would be allowed to sit out overnight so that the milk could settle and the cream could rise to the top.” Ruby remembered exactly that in her job as a child. Then she would churn the skimmed cream by hand into butter.
The article goes on to talk about how small numbers of now-artisan butter producers supply not only home cooks, but some very noteworthy professional kitchens.
As a confectioner and baker, my interest in high-fat butter (aside from how I can enjoy it personally) is how it can enrich the products I produce. So, here’s a chance to do some serious experimentation. Melissa Clark gives us a head-start. There are recipes for Buttermilk Biscuits and Cultured Butter Cookies in the article using cultured butter, the recipe for which is also posted. I can see this as being a fun afternoon.
So, check out the rankings of the panel taste-test. Better yet, spend a Sat afternoon experimenting with making your own cultured butter. You already have all the expertise you need from poring over those cookbooks. And the result is so much more gratifying.
Butter, full circle.