You’ve heard it before, “butter will kill you and broccoli will save your life”. But culinary icons like Julia Child, Chef Michael Smith and Martha Stewart have always believed that butter is beautiful. All around the country, ‘butteristas’ like myself have discovered something new to excite our palates: artisanal butter, produced in small quantities, from natural ingredients by small-scale producers.
I was smitten by the butter bug years ago at the Savour Stratford (food) Festival. Among the duck confit with sauvignon blanc and the Berkshire pork with merlot, chef Jonathan Gushue, formerly of Langdon Hall, bravely and simply served house butter on fresh baguette. That’s right, just plain bread and butter! It was a daring move but there was nothing plain about his butter. One mouthful and I was instantly taken aback. The fragrant, creamy, rich, almost nutty, salty flavours began to luxuriate across my tongue and I swooned over a mouthful of sweet, creamy, decadence.
Gushue’s butter had the cleanness of a crisp Riesling, the brightness of crème fraîche, luxurious legs of a voluptuous chardonnay and the tender sweetness of a Chantilly cream. Flavours danced from sweet cream to heavenly vanilla with a light almond-like finish.
This might sound like the language of oenophiles or perhaps cheese aficionados. But it isn’t. It’s the lingo butteristas have adopted; people who seek out butters that are made from a single herd, others that reflect a region’s terroir, and complex flavours from the fermentation of cultured butter, or compound butters that absorb the flavour of their aromatic ingredients.
Butter is a dairy product churned into a spread, yet all butters are not alike. Butter has many flavour compounds – over 120 of them to be exact from fatty acids to dimethyl sulfide. What this means is that all butters take on their own characteristics. But in order to show terroir or distinctiveness, it must begin with a pure, high quality ingredient – one that the majority of Canadians unfortunately do not appreciate.
In Canada, we’re surrounded by a sea of commercial butter made with the milk of the high yielding, low fat Holstein cows. And why not? Canadians are obsessed with avoiding fat, but herein lies the problem. Canadian cream is a skinny 35 per cent compared to the European 48 per cent and it’s the butterfat content in cream that seduces us into loving butter. So how can conventional butter compare when you start with a lesser-quality raw ingredient?
A simple butter tasting will reveal everything you ever wanted to know about buying good tasting butter, but it isn’t an easy tasting to organize. You can find imported French butter in Quebec and Belgian butter in Ontario, but butter doesn’t seem to spread itself across the country as well as it could. For example you’d never find a pound of British Columbia’s delicious Foothills Creamers Butter in Ontario, or a Quebec Lamothe Cremerie butter in Saskatchewan.
So what to do? Buy the best that is available. Look through the dairy counters of your local specialty grocer to find products made by local Ontario suppliers such as Limestone Creamery or Stirling Creamery. If you can’t find artisanal butters, pick up a pound of cultured butter, it’s considered to be the equivalent of a reserve wine. President’s Choice carries PC Black Label Normandy Cultured Butter, available in your local Fortino’s. Organic Meadow offers an organic cultured butter, available at Goodness Me Natural Food Market. Picone Fine Foods in Dundas sells Isigny Sainte-Mère, a luxurious brand imported from France.
So join the ranks of Childs, Smith and Stewart by loving butter but go all the way and get to know your butters the way others know their wines. Today, butter has never been more beautiful.
Denninger’s Foods of the World, Hamilton Mountain, Hamilton Downtown and Burlington
Goodness Me Natural Food Markets, Hamilton Mountain, Locke Street, Burlington and Waterdown
Picone Fine Food, Dundas
Hewitt’s Dairy, Hagersville
Written by Lynn Ogryzlo. Lynn is a food, wine and travel writer, and international award winning author. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.