Butter – We Have Great Butter

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When I refer to we, I’m talking United Kingdom and Ireland.  These Isles with gloomy dark winters and wet summers may not be beach holiday destinations but they are great for pasturelands with grazing cows…there is a benefit for putting up with lousy weather; great dairy.  If you have only lived in these parts you have no idea how lucky you are when it comes to great dairy produce.  Take it from someone who’s still traumatised by long life milk and Maizena custard (cornstarsch) from their childhood.

Monica asked if I recommended good butter after posting  Gregoire’s Light Scones  last year, and most recently Max Franosch also asked recommendations for good butter.  Generally the standard here is good, but like having a decent bottle of wine and then tasting wine which is outstanding I’ve tasted two butters in restaurants which were logged at the back of my mind.  The first was at The Fat Duck 9 years ago, and more recently last year at Pollen Street Social.

Am I slightly odd for remembering the butter?  When I rang Pollen Street Social today to ask where their butter was from the girl on the phone laughed out loud.   After she stopped laughing she admitted she was also a butter devotee.  Maybe it’s because my dairy-intolerant stomach bans me from daily use when I do indulge in some I tend to scrutinise it.

Why  Champion French Butter?

A foodie pet hate of mine is being in a non-French restaurant/cafe in England and seeing pointed out on the menu the butter on my table is French.  Why?  We have excellently produced butter here as we have cheese, why single out French butter, it’s not better than ours…this is where Bikerboy looks at me saying “ours? have we conveniently stopped being Portuguese today?”  Ahh…that’s what happens with dual nationalities.

There is a technical reason why French butter is better for pastry making, their fat content sitting between 82-85% makes it easier to handle with laminated doughs.  On eating however good butter is more than just fat percentages, it’s all about the milk and how it’s been handled.  What cows eat really matter.

Styles of Butter

Two general styles of butter making,  sweet cream butter produced traditionally in North America and over here, or cultured cream butter favoured by the rest of Europe.

The cultured cream butter method harks back to the olden days if you like, pre-refrigeration, letting the milk sour slightly producing lactic acid bacteria, giving the butter a tangy flavour as you would expect.  How this butter is now produced it varies, for example it can have the culture added to it after being churned but before refrigeration.  McGee points out the flavour compound diacetyl (a byproduct of fermentation) heightens the butter flavour.

The widespread use of sweet cream butter was possible once refrigeration was available, it’s the simple act of churning fresh cream.  If you’ve never made fresh butter, do it, with an electric whisk takes no effort, it’s fun and kids love doing it.  Here’s how to make your own in Gloria’s blog, and as you can see from her post a great by-product of making butter is buttermilk which she uses in her scone recipe.  You could also make soda bread, find a recipe in Louise’s blog here, or in Misk’s blog here.

Above and below were butters I picked out in my local Waitrose last year when experimenting with Gregoire’s Light Scone recipe here.  

The colour of the butter will be the result of what the cows feed on, although according to my US text books the colour Annatto can be added.  

I don’t know if it’s the case over here, is it?

Bread & Butter

I think of butter similar to a good loaf, a good loaf is the result of quality wheat, how it’s processed by the miller and the skill of the baker.  

The quality of butter comes down to what the cow feeds on and the skill of the butter-maker.   How the milk is cooled and the intensity its churned at determining the initial grains of butter, is the craftsmanship part.  Butter also ages, light and air are its enemy breaking fat molecules down making it rancid.  The fresher the better.

Cows fed on lots of grass will produce softer butter and those fed on hay and grains produced harder butters.  Cows milk in the summer will produce softer butters than winter’s milk.

Between Christmas and New Year I bought the two butters above, Rodda’s Cornish butter and Glenilen Farm butter in John Lewis on Oxford Street, London.  I  spotted them because of the labels “Handmade” and “Classic churned”.  I’m still a sucker for marketing phrases.

The Glenilen butter is a good butter but like the ones I bought last year, there wasn’t a distinctive character about it which made my brain cells store as a “must remember this butter”.

Rodda’s Cornish Butter

Out of the two, the one that stood out was Rodda’s Cornish butter, and the reason being because it has that clotted cream taste.  Its distinctive taste reminded me straight away of clotted cream and clotted cream ice-cream, that full fat round richness.  When I rang up the company today to ask about it, I was told the cream they use in their butter is the same cream used for clotted cream.

When I rang Waitrose to find out availability of Rodda’s butter across other branches I was informed they’ve stopped buying it in all together.  Fortunately the girl at Rodda informed me it’s now being sold through Tesco.

Abernethy Northern Irish Butter

While I was tweeting about Rodda and Glenilen butter, Jane at Chocolate Orange Soup blog pointed out a butter I should try, a Northern Irish butter Abernethy.  Owner Allison offered to send some in the post, which arrived 3 days later than she was expecting but to no detriment of the butter.  Checking out their Abernethy site here, seeing they had won The Great Taste Awards 2011, my expectations of great butter were amplified.

I can tell you this butter lived up to expectations.  The only way to describe its strong flavour is to say it tastes of mild cheese.  It has a wonderful powerful fragrance alongside the expected creaminess of good butter.  I’ve asked Allison if she sells direct but they don’t currently.  That’s rather unfair I feel since those outside Northern Ireland should taste it…so Allison if you’re reading this, bring it over here!  

Netherend Farm Butter

By the way, the butter I had at Pollen Street Social which stuck in my mind as outstanding was from here Netherend Farm in Gloucestershire, which if you notice is the one Gloria mentions in her butter post.  It’s an incredibly creamy butter, sweet tasting, morish, and if you see from their site they supply to all sorts of good hotels and restaurants and sell it through Waitrose.

These 3 butters I tasted stood out for me.  There will be plenty of other butters out there equally good or more suited to your taste, find them, my aim is to highlight what wonderful craftsmanship there is on these green pastures of  ‘ours’.