Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
I love high quality butter and occasionally I will reward myself with a package of imported European product.
An outstanding French butter made from cow's milk, Beurre de Charente, used to be available at an international market near me; it was considered the best butter one could buy when I lived in Europe. I was very happy to have access to it here in the US. Unfortunately the market is now gone, so I looked around to see what else I could purchase that would be just as good.
Butter is a natural product made by churning fresh or cultured cream from cow's milk, ewe's milk, goat's milk, buffalo milk or, rarely, a mixture of sheep’ and goat's milk. In most European countries, butter is usually made from cultured cream, soured with various species of bacteria, giving the butter a complex aromatic flavor and a light creamy color.
You haven't truly lived until you've tasted freshly baked baguette bread topped with great quality butter.
To my surprise I found that a couple of my local supermarkets carry Finlandia butter; a butter that I had had in Finland a number of years ago. Finlandia, and its parent company Valio, are well known for the cheeses they produce and export throughout the world, but their butter seems to be a product imported to the US market in the last 15 years, though it has been available for a long time to Finnish consumers. The Finlandia butter is 82% milk fat and comes in both salted and unsalted versions. The salted has gold-colored packaging and the unsalted silver. Both come as 7 oz. bricks.
Another superior European butter I recently saw at one of the local supermarkets is the Irish “Tipperary” from the Tipperary Co-operative Creamery. Made from milk of grass fed cows, it has been imported to the US for the last couple years. It comes as an 8 oz. brick and can be had salted or unsalted. It is as tasty as the Finlandia; if you're only going to use salted butter on a piece of bread, this is the one to get.
A rather unusual butter I tasted during one of my Italian journeys is made from milk of black buffalo herds grazing on pastures in Lazio, the mainland region between Rome and Naples. It is bright white and is rich and flavorful, with 83% fat content; it is prized by the local gastronomes for its taste. Regionally, it is used mostly in pastries and other backed goods but many of the luxury hotels in the area offer it with breakfast. In addition to butter, there is mozzarella and ricotta made from the buffalo milk and I distinctly remember the taste when we had lunch with a salad of basket-cheese slices with tomatoes from the producer’s garden and fresh basil, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and fresh picked oregano. This butter is now available in the US under the “Delitia” brand and sold in 8 oz. bricks.
Another interesting packaged butter that I found at a Greek supermarket in Astoria, Queens, is one made from ewe’s milk (provio voutiro). I remember eating it as a child, when we lived in what was, at the time, the outskirts of the city. A shepherd with his heard of sheep would come down the street – which was unpaved – and my mother would go out and purchase butter and yoghurt from him in hand-made clay pots. This was in the very early 50s. On alternate days, another shepherd would bring down his goats and we would get fresh goat milk, milked on the spot in a pan my mother held. I’m used to the sheep butter’s sharp taste and smell, but it is exceedingly strong and unless one is familiar with it, it will probably taste rather unpleasant to the average person.
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