According to critic, Jay Rayner, in The Guardian, own-baked bread with house-cultured butter was a key restaurant trend of 2018. Flavoured butters, both restaurant-made and bought-in, are popular too. At the Black Bull Inn, Sedbergh, Cumbria, chef Nina Matsunaga serves kimchi butter with her rye sourdough and also whips up miso, Marmite, and lard and crackling butters. Over at the Harbour Inn, Annalong, County Down, diners savour Abernethy Dulse butter with their wheaten and treacle bread.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE TREND?
Eating out as above. Another influence is clean eating. The hoo-ha about trans-fats did spreads no favours and while they’re no longer hydrogenated, most contain palm oil. In a wish to eat natural foods, many customers are returning to butter. Revived interest in crafts such as pickling, curing, cheesemaking and fermentation has had an impact, too.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT BUTTER?
Mouth feel and flavour. Salted butter enhances the taste of anything it accompanies and butter – which contains vitamins A, E, K and D – is one of the greatest finishers of a dish.
IS THAT WHY MANUFACTURERS USE NAMES LIKE FLORA BUTTERY?
You got it. They know nothing tastes as good as butter.
WHAT KIND DO WE EAT MOST OF?
Sweet (meaning fresh, not sugary) cream butter because it tastes neutral. Salt was originally added as a preservative and now most people prefer salted cream butter.
WHAT IS WHEY BUTTER?
Produced from the whey left over from the making of hard cheese, it is lower in fat than cream butter and tastes cheesier. Many mass-produced, supermarket cream butters contain a proportion of factory cheese whey.
I LOVE THE LACTIC TANG AND SILKIER TEXTURE OF EUROPEAN BUTTERS LIKE LESCURE. WHY DON’T WE MAKE MORE IN BRITAIN?
The sharper taste is down to fermentation – a bacterium called diacetyl produces a buttery taste. We used to make soured cream butters in this country until wartime food shortages and rationing; quantity, not quality, became the driving force. Cleverly, the French kept calm and carried right on fermenting. The good news is that cultured butter is back. Former chef, Grant Harrington, was so inspired by what he tasted when working at Swedish restaurant, Faviken, he started Ampersand in 2014 to supply Michelin restaurants and delis. A cultured butter made in the New Forest by Bloxs Dairy won three stars at the Great Taste Awards 2019 and Dorset Dairy’s butter scooped two. In this year’s British Cheese Awards, Ludlow Farmshop won Gold for their lightly salted cultured butter.
WHY SHOULD CONSUMERS PAY MORE FOR ARTISAN BUTTER?
Makers of mass market butter may use milk from several different areas, ‘even it out’ at the factory and add colour. Artisan butters handmade from grass-fed cows’ cream are more interesting. They offer flavour nuances depending on the breed of animal, its diet and the climate. Beta-carotene in grass gives a natural sunshine yellow. Hand-paddling with wooden tools ensures flavour isn’t lost and the lactic bacteria in cultured butter make it as nutritious as yoghurt.
WHOSE BUTTERS DO YOU LIKE?
Quality hard cheesemakers such as Lincolnshire Poacher and Appleby’s make good whey butter. Bungay – made at Suffolk’s Fen Farm Dairy – is the UK’s only raw cultured butter. It beat 47 countries to win a Super Gold Award at a world dairy competition in France this June. Fen Farm Dairy also make an outstanding cheese, Baron Bigod, but when Charlie Turnbull of the Academy of Cheese hosted a tasting there, the excellence of the butter was what surprised delegates most. Charlie also likes Shirgar Welsh Salted butter from Ocado. It won three Great Taste Award stars and judges likened its balance of sweet and salt to ‘alchemy’.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THE MOST OF THE BUTTER TREND?
Give anyone buying cheese a prepacked free sample of craft butter. Remind customers that ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ and that it’s inconsistent to serve fine cheeses and great bread with bog-standard butter. Butter in rolls, rounds and wooden boxes looks more artisan than blocks.
ANY OTHER IDEAS?
Explore flavoured butters such as Abernethy, which makes Smoked, Black Garlic, Dulse and Seasalt versions. In April the new company Sublime Butter launched a range of butters designed to complement meat, fish and vegetables. The numbered recipes include: Garlic, Rosemary & Mint; Truffle, Parmesan & Black Pepper; Horseradish & Tomato; and Chimichurri.
WILL THE BUTTER TREND LAST?
Fingers crossed. Selling exceptional butter is a huge opportunity for fine food retailers provided they can overcome customers’ health prejudice and inexperience. We need gently to remind them that official guidelines to cut back on saturated fat have not resulted in slimmer people. Delis must also promote the deliciousness of traditional butter to consumers more used to industrial spreads. As with real bread, we need a Real Butter Campaign. Who’d have thought we’d ever be prepared to pay £4.50 for a wood-fired, slow fermented, sourdough loaf at a farmers’ market. Trend Watch did just that, last Saturday, and it was worth every penny.