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Butter Me Up

September 28, 2010

RealFoodMom, this one is for you.

Did you know that I declared this tasting week?  If you didn’t, shame on you for skipping Sunday’s wine post.  Well, anyway, it is.  And of all things, today I am tasting butter.  That’s right, butter.


Well, that’s where RealFoodMom comes in.  Last week, I was very excited to find the following blurb on a pound of butter at Target:

Our farmers pledge not to treat their cows with rBST. No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST treated cows and non rBST treated cows.

To which RealFoodMom had this to say:
You can buy amazingly delicious, high quality, non-hormone local NY or VT butter. You could even call up the farmer to talk about the product directly. You could drive over to meet the cows personally. (Try doing that with Target butter.) You could support your local store/co-op/farmer’s market with the purchase. I can see the advantage in buying less expensive, less tasty butter, and keeping it around in the freezer for baking, but I wouldn’t brag about it. Go for the best stuff for table use or cooking eggs.

Perhaps it wasn’t her intention, but I felt like I had been served.  So I have only three words for RealFoodMom: It. Is. On.

Competing head to head against my cheap cheap Target butter (which by the way was only $2.94 for 16 oz.) is an ideological heavyweight, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy from Ancramdale, NY.  I went to the Honest Weight Food Coop and asked about finding a local butter.  This is the one that best seemed to fit the utopian worldview of localistas.

Let me share a bit of its bona fides, and all kidding aside, they are quite impressive.  You can read the whole thing for yourself, or simply accept my highlights below.

The dairy is local.  It’s in the Hudson Valley, and it has been in operation over 75 years.  Their cows are both grass fed and free range.  They take very good care of their animals, and of course do not administer artificial growth hormones. When it comes to butter, theirs is churned in 40-gallon batches, to an 84-86% butterfat with very little moisture.

By the way, none of this comes cheap.  An 8 oz. tub of the stuff cost me $4.89.

Each butter was labeled as “Salted Sweet Cream” since we at the Fussy household understand the deliciousness salt brings to everything.  The question is, how do they stack up?

Off the bat there was a difference in color.  Target’s butter was whiter, and the Ronnybrook had a bit of a yellow hue.  Given the Ronnybrook’s increased butterfat percentage, this isn’t surprising.  What also wasn’t surprising was the difference in the butters’ texture when cold.  Ronnybrook’s was dense and hard, while the Target butter was decidedly softer.

But how did they taste?

I’m a butter lover, and I’ve had much much more than my fair share of crazy ultra super premium imported butters.  Neither of these blew my mind like those butters of my past.

The Target butter was notably saltier with a pleasant and lingering butter flavor.  But given Ronnybrook’s higher fat content, I was surprised by its very mild flavor that offered a faint hint of nuts quickly followed by a clean finish.  Some less charitable tasters might go so far as to call it bland.

Truth be told, if I were trying to add a butter flavor to a dish, I’d go with the Target brand.  Even if that dish was just toast.

The Ronnybrook would be a good choice for adding silky delicate body to a pan sauce where you might not want an assertive butter flavor.  I suppose that if you chose to believe the dairy’s counter-intuitive health claims (click on butter and read the first few paragraphs) their more neutral tasting butter could replace extra virgin olive oil as your cooking fat of choice.

Having worked in the natural foods business, I remain unconvinced by the claims.

Ultimately, the less expensive butter is decidedly not less tasty than its upscale local counterpart.  I would gladly use the Target butter with my eggs and on my table.  But if I accepted the notion that Ronnybrook’s butter would actually make my heart healthier, it would absolutely be worth paying three times as much for a less buttery tasting butter.  And in all seriousness, I would use it for almost everything.

So say what you will about the evils of large-scale dairy operations, I hear you, and on many levels I agree.  While Target’s butter isn’t made from happy cows that are raised on pasture at a small local farm, it is at least made without the use of artificial growth hormones.  And I really think it is important to support these small but meaningful changes from mass market retailers.

Plus it just bested the local butter that costs three times as much on taste. So, I’m going to keep on bragging about it (knowing of course all too well that much better butters exist in the marketplace).

Tomorrow I taste something else.
The things I do for science.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    September 28, 2010 10:10 am

    Kerrygold butter is readily available at Price Chopper, Hannaford, and Honest Weight. It comes from a co-op of farmers in Ireland who raise pastured cows that are fed only grass and hay, and only the summer milk is used in the butter production when nutrients are highest. It is always a deep orange color from the high levels of CLA and other nutrients in the milk, when compared to generic, pasty, off-white conventional butter. Far from local, but it is my favorite :)

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 28, 2010 10:37 am

    I’ve been looking for butter from 100% grass-fed cows, because these cows produce milk with a much healthier ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats. The Kerrygold label says nothing about whether their cows are grain or grass fed so I am glad to learn that they are indeed grass-fed. Are there others anyone knows about? Are all Euro butters from grass-fed?

  3. Tonia permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:01 am

    I am alllll about supporting the little guy, farms, organic, cruelty-free, and whatnot. I am also very fussy, but let’s face it, we all have to pay bills, and sometimes cost is a factor. For example, I love Jason products, they make soaps, toothpaste, etc. I order them online from a certain website. I would LOVE to support the little health food store near me, but the fact is the prices of the same products are often double. Sometimes you just have to compromise. Nice post. I <3 butter. P.S. Why would you use the "bad" butter in baking? I am wondering why you did not question this.

  4. September 28, 2010 12:08 pm

    The sacrifices we make for science. Thank you, sir, for taking one for the team.

    If you need help taste testing local Italian pastries or ice cream, you know where to find me.

  5. Jenny on the Block permalink
    September 28, 2010 2:05 pm

    Vermont Cheese and Butter Company’s butter is really tasty, and kind of local, although it comes in a hard to deal with cylinder shape that drives my (Olivio using) mother over the edge when I bring it out at holiday dinners. Generally, though, we use the Kerrygold or Organic Valley Pasture butter (avail. at Honest Weight).

  6. RealFoodMom permalink
    September 28, 2010 3:32 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comments, Profussor. I’m not sure what you mean by being “served” (tennis? legal papers?), but you are correct in that I had no intention to offend. I admire your selfless sacrifice of forcing yourself to taste butter. Hmmm, I’m tempted to see for myself if I agree with your results, and I surely would want to include more than just one local butter for comparison. However, it would be too dangerous for me, with my “fat tooth” (as opposed to a sweet tooth), to have large quantities of delicious butter in my home.

    I can’t consider myself a full-blooded locavore, as I do reluctantly shop at chain stores and buy non-local products, for a number of reasons: busy mom, budget, lazy, blahblahblah. I am not proud of that fact, however. And like you, I try to carefully consider my purchases. But for me, it’s a hold-my-nose-and-go-in kind of thing. I have a hard time praising big chains for carrying a decent product here and there, and I don’t think their motives are pure. I just tend to vote with my feet and buy local whenever I can. That’s what I meant by not “bragging” about the Target butter. If you like it, and it works for your family, go for it. I promise I’ll try it myself next time I drag myself to Target. And about the cost: yes, Ronnybrook is very expensive, but with a working member’s discount at Honest Weight, it costs $3.62, not $4.89.

    One last comment about taste-testing Ronnybrook, or any local, small-dairy, pasture-raised butter. It’s possible that their butter varies greatly from season to season in taste, texture, color, fragrance, etc. Your sample was one moment in Ronnybrook time. Spring butter, rich with spring flowers, is thought by many to be best. Mass-produced butter from grain-fed cows will not have such variations.

  7. Sarah M. permalink
    September 28, 2010 5:25 pm

    Target vs. Cabot! That fucking butter is one of like 3 things I miss about living in New England.

  8. September 28, 2010 10:47 pm

    How bad rBST hormone for a person? Likely, I will look this info up in the future, but for now consider me the asshole who has no idea and buys the cheapest butter available. For me, the bad guy are the “natural butter flavors” present in many mass marketed unsalted butters. Personally, I am okay with anything that is milk/cream and salt as the only 2 ingredients. Death to the “natural flavoring”.

  9. Ellen Whitby permalink
    October 1, 2010 12:16 am

    Dear Profusser,

    One of your loyal supporters (Leah) has already thanked you for “taking one for the team”. I would like to second her appreciation. It’s a tough job you’ve got, what with all the food you need to eat. It’s a tremendous sacrifice you make readily, over and over. Thank you.

    Your butter comparison is interesting. I prefer local to mass market, and my butter of choice is always unsalted. Why unsalted? According to one of my favorite dessert chefs, the salt extends the shelf-life of butter. Unsalted butter tends to be fresher and since it doesn’t last that long in our house, we don’t need a long shelf life. When we want salted butter, we just add salt. It does taste different than salted butter, but not enough to get me to buy it (except on Passover, when the hubby insists that he needs it for his matzah).

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