Monday, 18 May 2009

A Butter Tasting

When Mr. Ferdzy and I travelled out to Gatineau in April, we looked around for local produce. However, there isn't much that comes from mid-northish Ontario. (We took the route through Algonquin park.) There are a number of small dairies operating in the Ottawa valley, so we decided that butter would be a readily accessible item for us to buy. We picked up Nature's Pride made by the Brum Dairy, and Stirling Creamery butter. The Stirling Creamery also made Hastings Whey Butter, which was salted, but we decided to try it. In general, we tried to avoid salted butter, but the Nature's Pride was salted as well. Those were the only two salted butters in the batch.

I had already been thinking of doing a "butter tasting" as I have been buying Golden Dawn butter lately, which I had noticed tasted different than the more mainstream butters (Lactantia, Gay Lea) that are generally available. Lactantia isn't actually an Ontario-made butter; it comes from Quebec. However, it seems to be available pretty much everywhere. Gay Lea is a dairy farmers co-operative, producing butter in south-western Ontario. It too is widely available.

Finally, we also tasted Golden Dawn butter from the Alliston Dairy, and Organic Meadow cultured butter. Most of these were pretty similar in price, except the Organic Meadow which was roughly twice the price of the others.

So, the set-up: I put a slice of each butter in a little dish and assigned it a number. I sort of knew which butter was which, although not completely thanks to a fairly faulty memory. The three other butter tasters had no idea which was which, or even that some where salted and some were unsalted. (Okay, Mr. Ferdzy knew that much.)

We sat ourselves down, each with a knife and a cracker or two. My original plan was to spread the butter on the crackers, but we quickly decided they interfered with the flavour of the butter too much, so we just ate little gobs of plain butter, and nibbled on the crackers in between to clear the decks for the next batch. Jeez, the things I do for you guys. Actually, since we are all butter lovers it wasn't too much of a hardship.

Okay, the results:

A. was Lactantia My Country Cultured Butter: Cream, lactic culture, may contain colour. Parmalat, Victoriaville, Quebec.

In spite of being the only butter that listed colour as a possibility, it was quite pale. One person thought it was fruity; but the three remaining people thought it was mild verging on bland. I thought it tasted rather like whipping cream. In general, people liked it but their approval was muted. Words like neutral, average to good were used.

B. was Nature's Pride Salted Butter: Cream, salt. Brum's Dairy, Pembroke, Ontario.

This, I'm sorry to say, was not a favourite of anyone. The salt was quite prominent, with a mild background flavour or cream. But overall, it was just too salty. This is why I generally don't buy salted butter.

C. was The Stirling Creamery Unsalted Butter: Cream. Stirling Creamery, Stirling, Ontario.

One person rated it highly, describing it as smooth and nutty in flavour. I thought it tasted more of milk than of cream. In general it was rated average to noticeably good, but again enthusiasm was muted.

D. was Organic Meadow Cultured Butter; Organic cream, bacterial culture. Organic Meadows Inc, Guelph, Ontario.

This one generated some controversy. Two of us liked it quite a lot, and two people didn't like it much, one of them in fact disliked it intensely. It was noticeably less sweet than any of the others, with a stronger, deeper flavour that I would have to describe as "cow". You know how goats milk tastes like goat? Well this tasted like cow. It had a surprisingly salty quality, perhaps because of the lack of sweetness. It had one of the strongest yellow colours to it of the butters we tried.

E. was Gay Lea Unsalted Butter; Cream. Gay-Lea Foods Co-operative, Mississauga, Ontario.

Fatty, but no flavour; said one person. Remarkably bland, was my verdict. Really neutral. Two of us rated this dead last, and the remaining two people didn't care for it much either. The good news is, it wasn't terrible... just a complete non-entity. This, by the way, was something of a surprise - it's what I used to usually buy. Hmm.

F. was Golden Dawn Unsalted Butter; Cream, water. Alliston Creamery & Dairy, Alliston, Ontario.

This one was another one that generated some disagreement. Two of us quite liked it, the other two didn't care for it that much. One person described it as watery, and indeed, it is the only butter that lists water as an ingredient. It melted quickly on the tongue; again, probably because of the water content. I found it had a slight cheese-like, almost sour aroma that dissipated into a fairly standard cream flavour, and I thought that gave it some good character.

G. was Hastings Whey Butter; Whey cream, salt. Stirling Creamery, Stirling, Ontario.

This was appreciated by everyone. In so far as there was a winner, this would be it. This is a little dismaying, since I threw it in as an oddball (it was the only whey butter) and also since I live on the wrong side of the province to get it! There are a few different brands of whey butter out there, but in general they are fairly hard to find. I'm not even sure what "whey cream" is, although the package says "The Old Fashioned flavour of whey cream separated by selected cheese factories and traditionally churned to produce the unique taste and fresh quality." Hmm. Whey is what is left of milk after separating out the cheese curds; I'm just surprised it would have enough butterfat left to make butter.

This was the other salted butter, and the flavour of salt was fairly prominent, but not unpleasantly so. The flavour was described as "round" and "most buttery". Two of us thought it had a mild cheesey flavour and a slightly sharp finish. Definitely, it had a real and pleasant flavour - not at all bland. This was the other butter with a strong yellow colour to it. A good butter to just spread on bread and eat.

Overall, we were all amazed at how different the butters actually were, even if we sometimes struggled to find the words to describe the differences. It's well worth while to try a different butter once in a while, to make sure you are using your actual favourite butter.

Last year at this time I made Chicken with Mushrooms & Shallots in Cream Sauce.


sdrv said...

Sounds like fun! And interesting too.

I had to smile at the thought of butter creating controversy- who knew?

I wonder if some butters taste different, or better in different states. Heated for example.

I wouldn't be surprised if one butter that scores low in its natural, out of the package state scores differently when heated, or mixed into a recipe.

Thank you for the very interesting post!


Money Funk said...

I don't think I've ever considered the different tastes of butter. What a neat post. Me, I go to the market and buy the same unsalted butter everytime.

I am glad there was a winner with the whey butter. How fun.

nefaeria said...

Neat! I have never thought of a butter-tasting.

We use Organic Meadows as we don't have a local or even regional dairy that I know of (North Bay). I haven't really compared it, but I quite like it!

Thanks for the interesting post. :)

Ferdzy said...

It was definitely fun! I only thought of it because I did switch butters, and realized there was a difference.

Steph said...

Lactantia is my favourite too! That must have been a fun and yummy experiment. I feel guilty for eating too much butter though, thanks for doing this! I really enjoyed your post.

smc said...

I am lucky enough to live near Stirling and enjoy their whey butter all year long.

I didn't know what whey butter was either, but I asked a local farmer and he described it as farmer's butter. I guess the farmers making "real" butter to sell, would make whey butter for themselves out of the leftovers.

It's also fun to go downtown and watch the butter in the huge steel tubs in the window of Stirling Dairy.

Ferdzy said...

Oh man! I didn't know you could do that... must go to Stirling!

Maybe next year (once I've recovered, and emptied my freezer of butter) I will do a strictly whey butter tasting.

josh said...

i beleive that the gay lea product is produced locally (<100km south) in teeswater, ontario

jez said...

Does anyone know if these butters come from pasture fed cows? Apparently it makes a big difference to the taste.