Ask Evan: Is All Butter the Same?

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Every Tuesday I answer a question from a Good Food listener. You can email me a question, leave one on Facebook or add one in the comments section here. This week’s came from Nancy:

I have a basic question about butter. Other than the salt content, is all butter the same?  There are so many brands and so many prices, if it is all the same why should we pay for the name brands?

Milk has many transformative possibilities.  One of the most delicious is butter.  But all butter isn’t the same.  There are differences both in the percentage of butterfat and in the taste.  Is your butter sweet or tangy?  Sweet butter is made from fresh milk.  Cultured butter is made from clabbered milk,  that is, milk that is allowed to “turn” creating a more acidified or tangy flavor.  Butter made from pasteurized sweet cream is called Sweet Butter and is mostly what we eat here in the US. Cultured butter is either made from clabbered cream or is sweet butter that is inoculated with a bacterial culture. It is sometimes made from raw or unpasteurized cream.  Cultured butter is what Europeans make.  The cultures make it more complex and delicious.  There is also the difference in butterfat content.  By law American Butter has to have a minimum of 80% butterfat.  European butter is often 85%+ butterfat.  The difference in texture and flavor of cultured high butterfat butter is staggering.  Here is an admission for you.  One night in Italy during the Slow Food Salone del Gusto I said to myself, let’s forget all pretense here, why bother having cheese and bread for dinner.  So instead I had super high fat fresh Italian butter with bread.  I ate the butter like cheese. The waxy texture and sweet taste of grassy meadow expressed in the milk was very special indeed.