Tour de Butter

I cook a lot of food, and let me tell you: If you do as I do, do not turn a blind eye to basic ingredients.

I cook a lot of food, and let me tell you: If you do as I do, do not turn a blind eye to basic ingredients. The absence of fundamental quality can literally break your entire dish.

When going to the grocery store, it’s important to seek out quality ingredients—we all recognize this. When presented with a tired slab of meat compared to some quality cut, we will choose the non-tired meat. The same goes for produce—who wants wilted lettuce or tomatoes riddled with soft spots? Nobody, so why skimp on your foundation as well?

Salt, pepper, oil, milk, flour, eggs and in this case, butter, are the brushes and paints which you will use to synthesize most any culinary artistry. And trust me, you can follow the most decadent alfredo sauce recipe on earth, but if you use Country Crock, it’s gonna tank. If you make a roux with Nucoa, whatever you’re making is going to suck. These are facts.

Most grocery stores in Portland don’t make things any easier for the budding gourmet, offering up only the supermarket staples: a full ration of flavorless margarines, Darigold and Challenge butters, and if they’re feeling saucy, an organic offering or two—usually from Horizon or Organic Valley.

Specialty stores exist for a reason. Come with me as I advise you on the one ingredient that can sink or save any dish—butter!


Country of origin: Ireland

Found at: some Safeways, some Fred Meyers, Whole Foods, et al

As far as general-purpose salted butter, you’d be hard-pressed to find better anywhere, especially for the price; you can find it at Whole Foods NW for $2.69 a brick. It has a perfect balance of lactic flavor, creamy sweetness and palate-enticing salt. This is the butter of choice for virtually all seafood applications. They don’t call Ireland “The Emerald Isle” for nothing; the cows at Kerrygold’s dairy eat nothing but the freshest, greenest grass and the result is a butter that is high in beta-carotene. That said, for all applications non-Italian (more on that later), Kerrygold is your go-to if your recipe calls for salted butter.


Country of origin: France

Found at: Whole Foods (NW), Pastaworks (SE) and City Market (NW)

The first thing you will notice about Celles Sur Belle (other than the old-timey picture of a French woman) is the price tag. At $6, yeah, it’s a little pricey, but good food costs money. Although CSB headquarters makes all sorts of butters, the only variety you’ll find in Portland is doux, meaning “unsalted.” CSB butter is produced the old-fashioned way; it’s churned in little wooden barrels. The use of matured cream gives CSB its distinctly French flavor—a kind of nutty taste that just tastes fresh. If you’re making desserts, baking or using butter to start a roux, CSB is your best bet because of the high fat content. For a roux, it better combines with flour and it lends an underlying shade of richness to any dish made with it. Also, CSB’s high butterfat content and absence of salt makes for a perfect starting point when making clarified butter.


Country of origin: Italy

Found at: City Market (NW)

If you thought that Celles Sur Belle was going to be the most expensive butter in the list, you’re wrong. Sitting at around $6.50, this butter comes sealed with brass rivets. This butter is made with the cream left over from the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheesemaking process, and the result is a super-rich, delicate butter that tastes faintly of the process it originates from. The slight tinge of P-R flavor makes this butter a no-brainer for any kind of Italian cooking. When I say this butter is delicate, I mean it—it goes bad pretty fast. That said, I can only advise buying a brick of it if you plan on using most of it—if not all—in a dinner. It’s great on toast and all that, but for such a high price, you’ll regret letting any of it go to waste.

Obviously, this doesn’t quite comprise the great world of butter that is out there. Portland’s finer groceries also contain butters from Denmark, Iceland and a few from the States, too. I’ve tried them all, and they all have their applications. They just didn’t make this list.

Being a great chef means knowing your ingredients. Being a great builder means knowing your tools. Bringing a combination of these philosophies to the kitchen will give you greater success, every time.