For years the food police had people believing butter was bad for them. Now margarine’s taking the heat, and butter is beautiful. Personally, we never thought it stopped being beautiful, not to mention endlessly versatile.
We enlisted master baker Didier Rosada from Uptown Bakers to help us find the best. He even brought some crusty baguettes for our tasting of 22 butters. Here’s how they fared.
Best everyday butter. Kerrygold from Ireland has a rich, intensely creamy flavor that doesn’t compete with the bread, tastes the way butter ought to, and is available at Safeway; eight ounces costs about $3.50. Also available at Giant Gourmet, Wegmans, Whole Foods.
Best baking butter. Plugrá is a chef favorite because of its high fat content. It also has a pleasantly tangy finish and coats the tongue in a beguiling way. Though French in style, Plugrá is made in Pennsylvania by Keller’s Creamery; 16 ounces for $5 at Balducci’s, Dean & DeLuca, Giant Gourmet, Giant Flagship (Rockville), Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Whole Foods.
Best boutique butter. Celle Sur Belle woos with its incredibly mild, light flavor, ice-cream-like mouth feel, and stamp of approval from France’s rigorous Appellation d’Origine Controlee; 8.2 ounces sells for about $5 at Balducci’s, Dean & DeLuca, and Whole Foods.
BEST OF THE REST
Elle & Vire: Is it butter or is it cheese? This salty, assertive butter from Normandy tastes like cow’s-milk cheese—not a bad thing; 200 grams (7.5 ounces) for $4.50 at Wegmans.
Président: The everyday French butter that Rosada grew up eating; in the tasting he liked it less than he remembered. Salty with a classic butter flavor and no aftertaste, this butter from Normandy would be good on popcorn; one pound for about $5 at Balducci’s, Dean & DeLuca, Giant Gourmet, Rodman’s, and Wegmans.
Double Devon Cream: This English butter—made by “happy cows,” the package says—is slightly salty with a tangy uplift; eight ounces for $5 at Wegmans and some Whole Foods.
Kate’s: This Maine-made butter quickly overwhelms with salt but mellows at the finish with a light, pleasing flavor. Another good baking butter; one pound for $3.29 at Whole Foods.
Vermont Butter & Cheese Company: Sea-salt crystals make for an overly salty butter when eaten solo, but on bread it works—and the crunch of crystals is appealing, too; six ounces for $6 at Wegmans and select Whole Foods.
Land O’Lakes: An everyday butter made in Minnesota that’s inexpensive and readily available with a light but pleasing mouth feel and a judicious amount of salt; one pound for about $4 at supermarkets and specialty markets.
Included in this category were house brands from Giant, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Whole Foods; organic butters such as Cabot, Horizon, Organic Valley, and Strauss; an American supermarket classic, Breakstone’s; and imports like the Danish Lurpak and the fetchingly wrapped French La Baratte des Gourmets. The losers had a range of flaws, from waxy textures to funky “fridge” flavors like cheese, salami, and garlic—likely from improper storage during shipping or warehousing or at the store.