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Nov 9, 2009 09:32 PM

Does good butter matter? If so, what to get in San Francisco?

Does good butter make a big difference for everyday cooking? If so, what should I pick up at Trader Joe's, Safeway of Lucky? Or should I really spring for the stuff at the fancy cheese shop?

I sometimes make a simple brown butter and sage sauce and toss it with some pasta and parmesan. I always wonder if I should spring for something more than the Challenge brand. I never see cookbooks mention the quality of butter. But...

In Adam Gopnik's book 'Paris to the Moon,' he mentions an American chef apprentice a Michelin rated restaurant. Probably talking pastries, the aspiring chef gestured to some French butter and said something like, "This ain't no Land O'Lakes." Since then, I've always wondered if I'm really missing out on something special.

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  1. Standard American butter is 80 percent butterfat. Premium butters can be as much as 86 percent. In addition, some premium butters are cultured, which gives them a more complex flavor. The difference in butterfat doesn't sound like much, but the Chronicle did some tests a few years back and the amount of butterfat really did make an appreciable difference in baking.

    I think you should go out and buy some premium butters and taste for yourself. Trader Joe's carries Kerrygold from Ireland, which a lot of people swear by. Whole Foods carries some interesting premium butters, as does Berkeley Bowl. Start with a couple of those, and then if you find that they've piqued your interest, you can work your way up to fancy cheese shop butter.

    Berkeley Bowl
    2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703

    5 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      BTW, I bought some Kerrygold at Trader Joe's recently, and I remember why I didn't like it when I bought it before. It's kind of greasy and not very flavorful, IMHO.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        That is so funny, i haven't found a butter I like better than Kerrygold, and we keep on trying. I agree with the greasy, though it doesn't bother me, but to me it is the most flavorful butter I have found. I wonder if it is a case of the summer butter vs the winter butter, though. Probably the wrong thread, but what butters do you think are more flavorful than kerrygold - I would love to add them to my list!

        1. re: Meredith

          I should specify that I bought the Kerrygold unsalted. With this thread in mind, last night I tasted the Kerrygold against some Plugra. My impression was that the initial flavor of the Kerrygold is pure fat; I only tasted dairy notes on the finish. In contrast, the Plugra had a good sweet cream flavor upfront. YMMV.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Thanks, Ruth. Looks like it is time to buy some Plugra again and give it another go. The no-kneed bread recipe has trebled the need for flavorful butter in our house lately.

            1. re: Meredith

              I would try some of the others as well. I love Jana Valley, for example, and it's a lot cheaper then Kerrygold (at Whole Foods). Try some cultured butters, too. As noted throughout this thread, taste in butter varies -- you like what you like!

    2. You can also shop for butters at New World Market on Geary Blvd. for a good selection.

      New World Market
      5641 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

        1. re: wolfe

          thank you! it's an interesting read, especially now with holiday baking just around the corner

          1. re: Cynsa

            You might give a try to Sierra Nevada Cultured Sweet, new and not on that list. Here is a dazzling array of butters.

          2. I find that, much like Cook's Illustrated ratings, these taste rankings trend toward blandness -- they reflect the butter(s) that were disliked by the fewest people. It's really a matter of personal taste: do you prefer a sweet, clean cream flavor, or a more cheesey cultured flavor, or a more distinctive grass-fed flavor.

            The results of the baking test seems much more objective, although it's hard to know just how precise they were in controlling the variables.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I'd be more interested in seeing what Roland Passot thought than the average score.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Bingo. If you don't like personality in your butter, you won't like Celles sur Belle.

                Here's my post on a new, locally-produced butter from McClelland's

              2. Reading through the actual text at that article gives me a different sense from the numerical rankings, but certain aspects matched my personal taste and experience:
                -I've never been let down by the flavor or texture of baked goods I make with Jana Valley, which is my affordable default for all baking projects
                -I find the flavor of Strauss lacking, especially at the price point. $6 a pound gets into celles sur belle or amazing farmer's market butter territory, and I don't feel like the Strauss really competes well when eaten uncooked.

                1. re: SteveG

                  At her reading for The Foodie Handbook at Omnivore, Pim Techamuanvivit talked a bit about the butter she makes for Manresa. She said that just the raw materials alone, presumably the raw cream from the restaurant's dairy cow share, costs $25/lb. They don't have enough for every table. I talked to her a bit afterwards, and the trick is to mature the cream as long as possible to bring out the nutty character.

                  (disclaimer: Pim is a personal friend.)

                  "Better Butter" by Corby Kummer

                  Manresa Restaurant
                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      raw milk, aged. I don't think any lactic acid bacteria is added
                      here's more to read:

                      1. re: Cynsa

                        Raw cream will sour from ambient bacteria.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I first asked if it was a "cultured" butter, and that seemed to imply inoculating to her so she said "no". But when I asked if the raw cream is aged like creme fraiche, that brought a big "yes" with the trick being to take it to the edge for the natural flora to bloom but not over the edge to the point of spoilage. Her descriptors of tangy and nutty sounded like natural creme fraiche to me. Pim mentioned getting her hands on some French booklets on butter making from the early part of the 20th century that have been her guide.

              3. The original comment has been removed
                1. I've tried most of the fancy butters on this page and didn't find any of them terribly memorable:


                  I've had incredible butter in France, but I think it's raw-milk and illegal to import.

                  If I pay big bucks for a fancy butter, generally I just serve it plain. For cooking, I use Plugra ($2.99 / lb.).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I use Plugra for cooking too but it's only $2.99 a pound at one store (in Oakland, not in SF, which is where the OP is looking). At most places it's around $4-5 a pound.

                    Kerrygold is the best that I've found around here for buttering bread, etc.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      Plugra used to be $2.99 at Trader Joe's. Smart & Final reportedly also charges $2.99. I think it's $3.80 at Berkeley Bowl now. Shop around.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Nope, it's $4.19 at Berkeley Bowl, at least it was this weekend.

                        Berkeley Bowl
                        2020 Oregon St, Berkeley, CA 94703