We've been threatening to do a butter tasting since we returned from Wisconsin in October, and so, on January 1st, fresh into 2015, we decided to make good on our promise and make a bona fide butter tasting a reality. We definitely took it to levels untold: we purchase five different butters to taste, we made our own butter from Organic Valley heavy cream, we decided to make it a BLIND taste test--which we managed even though we were the only two testers--and we recorded audio of the tasting and edited it podcast style. So, that should be fun to listen to, surely more fun than a typed transcript, but if you don't have time to listen, we'll touch on the highlights below.
Please enjoy the recording here: [soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/187587277" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
First, what butters were we tasting? Well, while we were in Wisconsin in October, we picked up two local-looking butters. They were both butters that we do not encounter in the Chicagoland area, so we thought we ought to try them. The first is Freis Von Kiel Butter, which doesn't seem to have a website, but is the featured butter on M Magazine's (Milwaukee's Lifestyle Magazine) Locavore page. The other Wisconsin butter is an alleged Amish Country Roll Butter. It was mysteriously packaged and we tried to find some information on it because it looked legit, but it also wasn't labeled with any particular Amish association or community. As far as I know, there are not generic Amish individuals just sitting around making butter for the rest of us. So, with a little google work we uncovered this blog post, and we think we were fed a similar bill of butter goods. Dang.
The next purchased butter was Kerrygold, which is a favorite for many of our readers, I'm sure, and I'm also sure you are interested to see how it holds up to other high quality butters. We also bought Organic Valley Cultured Butter and Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted. We love both of these butters already and use them all them time. I don't know if other people have three favorite butters, but Sustainably Queer does!
And then we made butter. Kristl has made butter before, and she is also the boss of the KitchenAid mixer, so I let her take charge of this process. We used the instructions from Joy the Baker's blog, which you can find here. We will include some photos below, but we will not reinvent the wheel, Joy does a great job. Mostly, you agitate the cream's fat molecules until they let go of the milk and stick together. Then you squeeze the result and rinse it. Add salt if you want, but that's about it. Butter, done.
So, we made our own butter in preparation and we let all the butters come to room temperature before we spread them. We served each butter spread on two small slices of sourdough bread on each plate. We did our best to make the slices look identical so that once the butter was on the bread we wouldn't know which was which. The plates were correctly labeled on the bottom, and Kristl put the correct butter on the correct plate when she applied the butter.
Once we had everything on the correct plates, we put the plates on the tables and swapped them all around. Then we numbered the plates so we would have a reference for our blind taste test. We set up the recorder and we dug in.
For those of you unable to listen here are some highlights: Rachel is not awesome at describing the actual flavor of the butter, but will definitely tell you whether or not it was from Wisconsin, and if it contains salt. Kristl is good at describing the color and texture of the butter, especially in terms of paint glosses (e.g. one butter was very glossy and yellow, others were more eggshell and pale). We'll provide our initial reactions here and then reveal the butter key at the very bottom, so you can play along.
Butter #1 was pretty good, but rather non-descript. It was the first butter we tasted, and we also hadn't tasted sourdough bread in a while, so it brought more attention to the bread than the butter. Rachel was convinced that it was a Wisconsin butter. Kristl was convinced we shouldn't have used sourdough because it was too distracting.
Butter #2 was very pale in color and immediately upon tasting it, Kristl felt like it had an off flavor (she said "rancid" on the recording). Rachel felt the butter was a little off too, but didn't have a huge mouth feel, and was pretty mild over all. This was not a butter you would go out of your way to get.
Butter #3 was not salted, but had a very deep and luxurious creaminess to it. Rachel felt immediately that it might be Kalona, because she will sometimes eat a little bit of Kalona first thing in the morning. Kristl agreed that it was was smooth and creamy, and could possibly be Kalona, but definitely had to be one of the salt-free butters.
Butter #4 was also not salted. It was also extremely creamy, for being butter. We talked a little bit about the odds of the two unsalted butters being directly next to each other. Rachel said something silly about it having a Wisconsin vibe, even though both the Wisconsin butters included salt. Kristl stated that this was probably Kalona (which is made in Iowa).
Butter #5 immediately caused us both to sit up a little bit because it had a lot more salt than the other salted butters. We could tell that it had been hand-salted with sea salt recently. Some of the salt was still crunchy in the butter. This definitely improved the flavor for a butter tasting on bread. This butter was very lively and showed its cards pretty easily with that crunchy salt.
Butter #6 was also pretty easy to guess, because it had the slight tang of yogurt that comes with the territory of cultured butter. Cultured butter was a nice variation after all the plain butters that we had tasted, and it definitely would have stood out more if we had tasted it on a bread other than sourdough.
Butter #7 was the glossy, yellow butter. Looking at the butter, knowing the butter, and having former experiences with this butter, we actually thought we would like this butter the best, because it's so fatty and soft. It is very good butter, there are no questions about it, but to be honest it lost out to the homemade stuff.
Well those were our blind taste test reactions in a nut shell, listen to the recording for a full spectrum. Here are the actual answers:
Butter #1: Freis Von Keil
Butter #2: Amish Country Roll Butter (probably not actually Amish)
Butter #3: Homemade Unsalted
Butter #4: Kalona SuperNatural Unsalted
Butter #5: Homemade Salted
Butter #6: Organic Valley Cultured
Butter #7: Kerrygold
Our goal in this experiment was not to rank the butters or to pit them against each other, necessarily. We mostly wanted to see, given an ingredient that is pretty simple and easily produced, how different separate butters could taste. That being said, we really enjoyed our homemade butter the best. It was clearly the freshest, and when the tasting was complete, we combined the salted and unsalted and finished it within the week.
So, that's The Great Butter Tasting of 2015! There will be more tastings in 2015, don't worry. If there is a food you would like us to taste and post about, please let us know in the comments below. We're happy to take on any whole food challenges!