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Fancy Butter Taste Test

One man, twenty-three fancy butters.

This comes from our “Cooks and Chefs III: Fine Dining” issue, on newsstands now. For more stories like this, subscribe to the magazine

Like many of you (I assume, no offense), I am a fully grown adult who lives with  roommates. The epicenter of a household like ours is the kitchen. In our home, we generally share our food, especially if one of us gets a surplus of something.

When this magazine told me that for my next assignment I’d be receiving twenty-three packages of fancy butter, I couldn’t help but feel like a capital-G, capital-R Good Roommate. More than a good roommate, actually. I felt like a rapper who had struggled for years, finally made it big, and then let all the people who had stood by him join in on his new lavish lifestyle. Since there are so many ways to use butter (on toast, in baking in a pan, on veggies, in sauces, as a terrible thing to put in your coffee, etc.), I also felt like a hunter-gatherer who’d brought enough dead animal carcasses back to the cave to last his tribe for two winters.

The only catch was that before any of this butter could enter into our kitchen ecosphere, I’d have to taste-test it. I should summarize the conditions of the test itself. Please read this very quickly, like the side effects at the end of a TV drug advertisement: the initial taste test was conducted over the course of two days via a spoonful (or spoonfuls) of each butter, with no bread, crackers, or accompaniment of any kind. I attempted (with varying success) to ignore the text on the butter until after the test was completed. Additional testing was done intermittently on toasted white bread.

Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter

(salted) (Ireland)

This feels like a good starting butter. The shiny gold packaging communicates fanciness, a design trope I’ll see again and again over the course of this tasting. Also, like many of the other butters, Kerrygold extols the conditions that their cows are kept in, specifically the lush Irish grass that the cows feed on all day. While Irish butter is not as romantic as butter from, say, France or Italy, it’s still from Europe, so I’m still turned on a little! ;) The color is not the deepest yellow but not the lightest, either. It tastes like extremely good butter tastes. It kind of creeps up on you and builds like a rich, creamy crescendo as it melts in your mouth. Someone arrest me for what I just typed.

Organic Spring Hill Jersey Butter

European Style (salted) (California)

At first I’m like, Man, all-American Jersey butter? That’s what I’m talking about! This is the type of butter you eat when you’re blasting some Bruce in your muscle car on your way to work at the factory. But it turns out that Jersey is a breed of cow, originally from Jersey, a small “bailiwick” that is a part of the Channel Islands, between England and France. Bruce would never be caught dead in a bailiwick!

It tastes a lot like butter. It’s more mild than the last one. But still buttery. I don’t exactly know how to write this article.

Somerdale English Country Butter

(Salted) (England)

More gold packaging, more language about cows grazing in lush pastures. One thing I should note: a lot of reviews of this butter noted that it was specifically “better than Kerrygold.” To me, it’s not. It has comparable richness (which is to say, very rich), but it’s a bit sharper, almost like cheese. I make a note to myself: Is cheese butter?

Les Prés Salés Butter

(with coarse sea salt from Camargue) (Belgium)

The packaging is tasteful—a red-and-blue design printed on thin parchment paper. There’s an illustration of a boy piling up salt from the sea. Is that the secret behind this butter? A small boy in an odd hat gathers all the salt? The butter itself is a bit sweaty. The color is spotty, with darker bits of yellow. The salt is large and visible and really makes its presence known. I’m hit by a quick rush of saltiness that lingers, followed by a wave of sweetness.

Haverton Hill Creamery Sheep Butter

(lightly salted with sea salt) (California)

This butter is the color of lemon sorbet. The texture is markedly different from the butters thus far, not as smooth, less easily spreadable, and much more likely to break apart as you try to slice it. There’s something slightly off about the flavor, almost a sour note. It might be that it spoiled while en route to my house, but I’m more inclined to believe that sheep just produce sour-tasting butter. Some farming message boards reveal that sheep’s milk is often higher in fat and that sheep are more difficult to get milk from. My solution? Let’s stop milking sheep!!!! Just kidding.

Sierra Nevada Cheese Company

European Style Vat-Cultured Butter (salted)  (California)

The packaging is silver, so you already know it’s less fancy. They claim to have no more than three cows per acre, that those cows roam the pastures for more than three hundred days a year, and that they observe sustainable farming practices such as “rotational grazing.” I make another note to myself: Rotational grazing? Do they put the cow on a big ol’ spinning bed??? Lol. This one is light in color and has a pretty mellow flavor.

Red Feather Brand Pure Creamery Butter

(New Zealand)

This butter comes in a can! It’s a very deep yellow, very creamy butter. It’s not among the best, but the customers on Amazon have some pretty interesting uses for it. Many buy it and add it to their disaster-preparedness kits. One guy, who I’m slightly concerned for, says, “I keep BROWN BREAD IN A CAN for emergencies, pop open a can, spread some butter and you have a meal.” Another customer bought some for her son-in-law who was stationed in Afghanistan, and some other guy says he bought a case for the “long haul”! I imagine this guy driving across the United States chowing down
on butter.

H. J. Wijsman Provision Merchant

Preserved Dutch Butter (salted) (The Netherlands)

Another can. In my mind, because they are in sturdier packaging, canned butters should be more valuable. But in truth, they’re probably designed for people who live in bunkers and don’t care what they eat as long as they can eat it forever. I’m a bit disappointed in the taste (of both cans so far, actually). One positive thing: the color is a beautiful golden yellow, probably the most beautiful butter yet. But then I see they use beta-carotene as a food coloring. How dare you try to pull one over on me, can of butter!

Beurdell Finest Quality Butter

(France)

The packaging of this canned butter from France evokes a cat food marketed exclusively to depressed or bored cats. I don’t have high hopes, although I am pleasantly surprised after popping the top to find that there’s a sort of crown-shaped mound of butter right in the center. It’s the least-sweet butter I’ve had so far, comparable to a sharp spreadable cheese in terms of taste and consistency. Cans of butter aren’t good.

Beurre de Chimay

(salted)(Belgium)

I’m actually quite psyched to eat another classic butter after the cans debacle. It reminds me of happier times when I was eating Kerrygold. The taste doesn’t disappoint—this is another extremely rich, sweet, and creamy butter. My roommate Camryn loves it. When another roommate comes home, I take it as an excuse to end day one of butter testing. Later, I look in the mirror and find butter in my beard. Later still, I find butter on my glasses somehow. I shower and go to bed. The smell of butter lingers on my hands.

Beurre d’Échiré

(demi-sel) (France)

Man, this is a straight-up delicious butter. It also comes in probably the most “fine dining” packaging: a cute little basket. It’s renowned for its high butterfat content—84 percent! (The average for most American butters is 81 percent.) As I understand it, more fat means less moisture, which makes for a better cooking butter, as it melts more evenly. Lucky Peach accidentally sent me two of these butters, which is lucky for me: 85 percent of all Échiré butter stays in France.

Plugrá European Style Salted Butter

America (couldn’t find a more specific origin!)

When I told people that I’d be doing a butter tasting, I was surprised by the number of people who asked if I’d be tasting Plugrá. (The number is two, so I guess I am easily surprised.) Plugrá is the American answer to European high-fat butters. At 82 percent butterfat, it’s above the standard American amount but not quite at Échiré levels. It tastes really salty and good. The flavors rise and plateau together as the butter melts, similar to Kerrygold.

Straus Family Creamery European-Style

Organic Salted Butter (California)

Wait, wait, wait. Forget everything I just said. This butter has 85 percent butterfat! That’s way more than Plugrá. Apparently, though, this product is available less widely than the Ploog, but it’s still used by chefs, especially Bay Area chefs like Alice Waters. I even read that Alice was the one who convinced them to start using such high amounts of fat. The flavor is deep and salty, and leaves a bit of a nutty aftertaste.

Miyoko’s Creamery European Style

Cultured Vegan Butter (California)

I’m pretty excited for this one, because it’s so different from the rest. The ingredients are organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil, organic cashews, soy lecithin, sea salt, and cultures. The butter is so white. Have you seen the movie Powder about the really pale guy? This butter is the Powder of butter. The taste is okay, a passing substitute for cow butter.

It’s got a slight tang and bitterness. I can imagine a dystopian
future where there is no butter and we have to eat this stuff, and
it’s okay. Or I can just imagine eating it in the regular present day
if you are a vegan person.

Double Devon Cream Butter

(slightly salted) (England)

The best thing about this butter is its shape, like a large Tootsie Roll made of butter. It’s the size of an organic frozen burrito, and I even unwrap it like I would a burrito. I decide to forgo a knife and just bite it. I take several bites, actually, and stare out my window, hoping someone will see me, a grown man chomping down on a burrito of butter. This one’s pretty good—another creamy, classic butter taste. I make a note to myself: How many times will I say “classic butter taste”?

Meggle Alpenbutter

(Germany)

I’m pretty tired of gold packaging, but I will say that this has a light and refreshing taste. I mean this in a good way: it’s almost got a toothpaste-like sensation. It hits an area and sort of quickly spreads coolness in that area. It’s a good palate cleanser. I eat four scoops to try to figure out more things to say about this butter. Hey, crazy coincidence, my first girlfriend and the love of my life was named Meggle Alpenbutter.

Delitia Butter of Parma

(Italy)

Finally, a butter where the packaging actually feels high quality to me, not just an approximation of what people will think is fancy. It’s wrapped in a slightly coarse paper with a subtle throwback design. When I open it up, I feel that I am a young, beautiful Italian boy in the fifties whose mother sent him out to buy the best butter at a local market. Their packaging says that their milk is “strictly selected in accordance with extraordinary and rigorous disciplinary of production.” The fact that that makes no sense only endears this butter more to me.

Fond O’ Foods German Butter

(Germany)

This butter looks like trash. The illustrations of a cow and grass look like they were done by a Fond O’ Foods intern who didn’t know the Adobe Creative Cloud but lied on their resumé and said they were well versed in design, so they had to really quickly figure out how to use Illustrator. The only thing I like about this butter is the name Fond O’ Foods. If you work for Fond O’ Foods and you’re reading this, please connect with me on LinkedIn and we can discuss opportunities in rebranding and merchandising.

Lurpak Imported Butter

(unsalted) (Denmark)

I really enjoy pronouncing this butter’s name. Lerrr-pahk. Say it with me. Lerrr-pahk. It sounds like the name of a corporate conglomerate that has a very friendly public persona but is extremely shady behind the scenes. Sound off in the comments below if you know what Lurpak means. It sort of tastes the way our refrigerator smells, and could use some salt.

Clover Organic Farms

Salted Butter (California)

This butter tastes even more like our refrigerator. My roommate Rachel theorizes that it’s because it’s wrapped in wax paper and thus more susceptible to the flavors of its environment. Whatever, Poindexter! This butter comes from “a select group of family farms on the North Coast of California.” If I were a farmer, it would be my lifelong dream to join this gang of elite farmers. I would join, then I would be excited for a couple weeks, and then I would get tired of that and realize I’ll never really be fulfilled. Anyway, I really enjoyed this butter.

Landliebe Butter

(unsalted) (Germany)

I don’t want to start drama in the butter community, but I think the design of this butter is a rip off of Meggle Alpenbutter. Landliebe is another butter that is close in texture/spreadability to cream cheese. It’s probably getting the short end of the stick, because I am so tired of tasting butter. Some anagrams of Landliebe: lendable, deniable, edible LAN.

Grand Cru Lescure Beurre

Charentes-Poitou (unsalted) (France )

I guess it’s a pretty good problem to have, to be tired of eating butter. But I really am so sick of chewing butter. It feels unnatural and, frankly, dark. This butter retains its shape pretty well when you slice it, and it has a velvety mouthfeel. It’s good, but not one of the best. If you’re a kid trying to decide which butter you want to be when you grow up, it’s fine if you end up like this one, but you should probably aim for a better one. I’m starting to feel unclean, like butter is spreading over my lips and filling up the pores on my face.

St Helen’s Farm Goats’ Butter

I recently watched a horror film, The Witch, where (SPOILER ALERT) the Devil takes the form of a goat named Black Phillip. He proposes a trade for a young woman’s eternal servitude, slowly and sensually whispering, “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?… Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” So it’s fitting that I end on the butter of a goat. Upon tasting, I make my last note: It tastes like lamb, like a lamb that got turned into butter. Cream of lamb. Does goat taste like lamb? I’ve never tasted goat. If this is the butter that the Devil is offering, I don’t think he will get many takers. I might recommend that he opt for a more classic butter taste.

With the tasting done, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders. My apartment’s era of fine dining can finally begin.