I never expected to be shocked by butter. Yet it’s true, when you really sit down to just taste butter, it’s a shocking thing. I often have slices of french bread or baguette slathered in butter. I’m actually an over-do-it-with-the-butter-er. I kind of figured I knew what butter tasted like. But when I sat still and really tasted what I was eating, I was shocked how rich butter really is. How long it lingers on the tongue after eating it. How different it tastes then butter substitutes! I found when paying attention to what I was eating I really couldn’t stomach all that much butter. It seems really strange to me, but I have no idea how I usually slather on the butter without ending up feeling sick afterwords!
It was fascinating to taste the differences between the butters I tried. To recap from part one of this series of posts, I wasn’t sure someone like me with an average person’s palate would be able to tell the difference between one butter to the other. Certainly someone like Jeffery Steingarten (who’s article in Best Food Writing 2003 partially got me started on this taste test quest) would taste the difference, but would I? I found that while the differences are distinct, they can be quite subtle in a way. The average palate certainly can taste them, but with attention. Honestly you’ll miss the differences if you don’t really pay attention.
That being said, I sampled three different butters for comparison in this post. Land O Lakes salted butter (Steingarten’s Article listed Land O Lakes as having a pretty good butter, and it’s actually widely available at most grocery stores) my local store brand and the butter produced by my local dairy. I tried to track down an imported butter from Jeffery Steingarten’s list, but just had no success. I tried all my butters on a piece of french bread. Water in between different butters…
This actually turned out to be a pretty good method, because one of the things I found was that after a few bites, even trying really hard to pay attention and take notes, the flavors began to blur together and become indistinct. (This effect really helps me understand how people who are mindfully eating can be satisfied with less of something. If you really pay attention to what your eating you really start loosing distinct flavors surprisingly quickly!)
I won’t run on and on about the flavors of each butter… Especially since if you do this at home you’ll most likely be tasting completely different butters then me. But what I discovered is that each butter really does have a distinct flavor from the others. Among other differences one (from the diary) was a little creamier then the others, one (store brand) was waaayyy saltier then the others, and one (Land O Lakes) had the flavor that stayed with you the longest. Ultimately I think I prefer the diary’s butter best, perhaps because it’s freshest?
Final Verdict: For plain old bread and butter it might be worth sampling and picking out your favorite butter. Though I have to admit the differences in butters are subtle enough that I wouldn’t know the difference between them in baking or a flavorful dish.