Thursday, 26 January 2012

A Goat, a Buffalo, Four Cows and lots of Bread

Ah, butter.  That stuff that we all love and we're never supposed to eat any more lest our arteries clog and we all die instantly. 

Well, we took our lives into our own hands this Saturday when my good friend Meghan, who knows more about food than I ever will, showed up on Friday night for a weekend pyjama party with an intriguing hostess gift, some Au Bon Beurre butter from one of her food shops in Beaulieu .

Clearly she knows me well.  I love interesting  food gifts and I had never heard of this butter before.

Fresh butter four days a week
Instead of digging in on the spot we saved it until the next day when we could buy some carb-worthy wood oven baked bread from our neighbourhood Boulangerie, which we all agreed would be the best thing we could think of on which to taste it.   Besides, if we were all going to die from eating  loads of butter, our last moments should at least be forbidden, pleasurable ones.

Early the next day I trotted into  town,  bought three different breads and then, as one does on a Saturday,  we all piled into the car and headed to the fresh food market in Ventimiglia, Italy.

At the market, not far into the locavore or "Ladies' Row", we  spotted an artisanal butter from the Piedmont, available on only certain days of the week.    How could we resist that?

A buffalo and four cows
We bought some to taste with the butter that Meghan brought and then things got a bit out of hand.  By the time we finished shopping, we had 6 different butters to taste.  Three were French and three were Italian. One was made from goat milk, one from buffalo milk, and 4 were made from cow milk, one of them raw.

Hand crafted fresh butter from Cuneo in the Piedmonte

It all made sense to us.  Lately we'd become a bit disappointed with the quality and taste of what was once our all-time favourite butter, Echiré and we were looking for a suitable replacement.

The first time I had Echiré was ages ago at Alain Ducasse's 3 Michelin starred restaurant, Le Louis XV in Monaco.  The servers ceremoniously place little wooden baskets of it  before you,  one salted and one sweet, to portend the arrival of the  bread cart.  The Echiré butter elevated the already fabulous bread  to a course unto itself.   But I digress...

Back home, we unpacked our goodies and left all 6 of the butters on the counter to temper, sharpened the bread knife  and dug in for a tasting. 

On the butter tasting menu from France:
  • Baratte d'or by Sevre & Belle from the Poitou-Charentes Region
  • Le Gall, raw milk butter from Bretagne
  • Au Bon Beurre from Nord-Pas-de-Calais on the Belgian border
And from Italy:
  • Mandara Burro di Bufala from Naples
  • Bottero Bruno cow's milk butter from Cuneo in the Piedmont
  • Mamabe Burro di Capra from Cesena in Emilia-Romagna with an 84% butter fat content.

Worth the calories
After many slices of bread were consumed, each slathered in tempered butter we had some observations..

1.  The fresh, Piedmontese butter from the Ventimiglia market was creamy, smelt divine and was a rich yellow colour.  The butter was made in a pretty mould and we all loved the  hand crafted look of it.  The girls found it to have a slightly fermented note but hubby didn't share this opinion.

2.  The Buffalo milk butter was mild with an unpleasant waxy mouth feel.  It was also the whitest of the butters, just a bit darker than shortening or lard.
Goat milk butter.  Lame packaging, delicious taste

3.  The goat butter was also slightly waxy in the mouth,  white, and had a very mild goat cheese flavour.  It smelt stronger of goat than it tasted.  At first we weren't going to buy it because the packaging was a bit juvenile but cooler heads prevailed.

4.  The Au Bon Beurre  smelt sweet and floral and was a deeper yellow than the others.  It also had the softest, most spreadable texture right from the fridge.

5.  The Baratte d'or and the Le Gall butters were quite similar in appearance, light yellow,  dense, and also had the most neutral flavour.
And the winner  was...

Meghan's Au Bon Beurre from Nord-Pas-de-Calais on the Belgian border!  The taste was sweet, deep, and it had a rich, almost caramel like after taste.  We all agreed it was the butter we would like to have poured over a bowl of fresh, hot popcorn.
Just another day in an Italian dairy case

Well, the next day we ate salad, popped asprin and drank lots of water just for good measure and I can  say that it was all worth it now that we've found our new favourite butter.

I'm making short bread cookies with the remaining French butter, Italian cornmeal cookies or Paste di Meliga with the Italian butter and I'm holding on to the winning butter to melt and pour on popcorn for this Saturday's movie night.

Thank you Meghan.  You're welcome here any time!

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