Shelf Life. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session.


By amy • • Nov 22nd, 2009 • Category: Columns, Dairy

“Like buttah!” Who could forget Mike Meyers on Saturday Night Live, sending up his fantastically Jewish mother-in law in the classic sketch Coffee Talk With Linda Richman? Oh. My. God. The poufy hair, the glamazon shoulder pads, the most perfect nails evah? The hilarious diva worship: “This show is dedicated as always to Barbra Joan Streisand.” Linda and her guests would clank their jewelry and swoon over their heroine: “Barbra, can I just say, I saw you in your new movie The Prince of Tides, and you were like buttah!”

Which got us thinking. Are all butters worthy of the Barbra comparison? Aren’t some butters more like, say, Celine, or old-school Whitney? And what about those colourless, tasteless young pretenders no one has heard of? Who among us hasn’t spread something on their toast in the morning and it wasn’t Barbra, it wasn’t like buttah – it was Jessica Simpson?

So Shelf Life did some homework. There are any number of interesting reasons for differences in butter quality. For example, European butter is highly rich and flavourful because it contains up to %86 butterfat (the North American standard is %80-81). Closer to home, artisanal butters get their distinctive qualities from the practice of terroir, in which elements such as the location, breed and diet of the livestock may be discerned in the finished product. When it comes to everyday, supermarket butter, salt is a factor, and colour. Salt can be sneaky. The market leader is unsalted butter, but those who use it the most – mainly cooks – know that the package must always be scrutinised, as some ‘unsalted’ butters contain sodium. Colour can come from various sources, many of them artificial. As with so many other products, ‘enhanced’ butter and margarine are relics of the Mad Men-era food industry – ie. the notion that the more exaggerrated the colour, the more it’s going to look authentic. Go figure. Finally, there’s the issue of American vs. Canadian butter. In our informal poll, Shelf Life discovered that six out of ten of our favourite cooks can detect a flavour difference: apparently American butter has a trace of sourness to it.

But back to our showbusiness legend. In honour of Barbra – or as we girls like to call her, Mrs. James Brolin: correct me if I’m wrong but the man is divine – he’s like buttah!! – this week’s taste test aims to find a product worthy of her name. A better Barbra butter, bubeleh. A butter that causes all who encounter it to shriek, like Mike Meyers as the lady herself (in Funny Girl): “Hello gorgeous!!”

Ready to sample butter until the cows come home are this week¹s expert judges: Rodney Bowers executive chef at Le Petit Castor & chef/owner of The Rosebud & Citizen restaurants; Lyn Crawford, Celebrity Chef on the Food Network; Lora Kirk, Chef de cuisine, all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars.

Brand One

Organic Meadow
Unsalted butter

1 lb., $9.39
widely available
For more information visit

Rodney: Ahhhh. You know, I like this one. I like butter. I really like butter, and I really like this brand. The colour is strong – like sunflower petals. The flavour dances on the tongue, and the texture is light and soft. The taste is fleeting but wonderful – it’s supercreamy then gone like a Friday paycheck.

Lyn: I wouldn’t complain if this one ended up on my table. It’s soft, it’s creamy, and to me it has a unique aftertaste – some floral notes, maybe a hint of grass. No salt. However it does have a bright canary yellow appearance, and it looks cakey and oily – the oil is almost beading.

Lora: Not the world’s most attractive butter – it really does look like margarine to me. I agree about the taste though. It’s grassy and creamy and all of those things, and it’s not sweet but just on the edge of sweet. I’d put this one on the table and get out the bread.

Brand One Total TEN STARS **********

Brand Two

Beurre Ancestral Butter

250 g, $9.99
available in gourmet food stores & cheese shops
For more information visit:

Rodney: It’s the colour of a ripe banana. This is another very creamy butter, and it tastes salty but delicate. Brand Two is salty sweet on the tongue, but not too much. Strangely, it smells like sour cream potato chips.

Lyn: When I was growing up, I was always jealous of the other kids, who got butter. We had margarine. If we got butter, which was rare, my mother would freeze it. Brand Two is obviously not margarine, but it is – odd. If I put a little piece on my tongue I pick up beads of salt, which immediately go away, and then it finishes sweet. I like it, but …hmmm.

Lora: All I’m getting is salt. I’m not big on salty butter, I’d rather add it myself. It’s got no aftertaste, and no smell. It’s yellow, with a texture almost like waxy dough. Brand Two might work with something like corn on the cob.

Brand Two Total TEN STARS **********

Brand Three

Unsalted butter

1 lb., $5.99
widely available

Rodney: Brand Three is pale, with a bit of transparency. It’s not my favourite, but it’s got an interesting kinda earthy taste. Speaking of butter, have I told you recently how much I love mashed potatoes? At the restaurant we serve them Joel Robuchon style, %50 butter and %50 mashed spuds.

Lyn: C’mon, push it – I think you should make it %75 butter, %25 potato. Who could resist that? Not me. I could maybe resist Brand Three though. I find it bland. It’s just not eventful. Zero salt, no sweetness, maybe a faint trace of grass. It doesn’t have any real drawbacks, but there are better products out there.

Lora: I like its smoothness. This is a light, fluffy, creamy butter, with one or two grassy notes, and I find myself eating more and more of it. Brand Three has a really versatile creaminess – you could use it for just about any occasion.

Brand Three Total TEN AND A HALF STARS**********1/2

Brand Four

Golden Dawn
Unsalted butter

1 lb., $4.29
available at selected gourmet & independent grocery stores
for more info visit

Rodney: Hey! This is a different butter altogether. As soon as I taste it I get blossom honey, and it’s floral on the nose. The texture is soft and dissipates rapidly, and it has a beautiful buttery appearance. But – uh oh – the flavour falls right off.

Lyn: It smells sweet, almost perfumey – there’s definitely something floral going on here. The flavour is absolutely lovely – it’s super-creamy, like everyone’s ideal of what butter should be like. Give me this and I could make a pecan pie that would be out of this world. Or butter tarts. Butter tarts!!

Lora: To me Brand Four tastes fresh and balanced, like homemade butter. There’s maybe a small bit of salt. I would cook my head off with this butter, starting with something like a braised steak. I love the sweet, flowery aroma. I think I’ve just found my new favourite butter.

Brand Four Total TWELVE AND A HALF STARS ************1/2

Results: The cream of the crop turned out to be Alliston, Ontario’s delectable Golden Dawn brand. Judges also enjoyed Lanctantia, from Quebec, with Organic Meadow and Beurre Ancestre achieving some mellow yellow as well.

Off The Menu: During this test Shelf Life discovered quite a lot about butter making and butter consumption, plus one or two way-weird idiosyncracies of the judges (Rodney: “ Do you know what’s really good? Butter in peanut butter sandwiches”). But when all was said and done and knives came down on plates for the last time, Shelf Life was struck by one thought: it is very easy to forget the reality of this product.

Every aspect of butter represents an enormous amount of distilled labour. It takes 21 pounds of fresh cow’s milk to make one pound of butter. It took centuries to develop state-of-the-art pasteurization, refrigeration, selective breeding, and transportation. Today, there are fewer people producing butter and more consumers expecting cheaper, tastier product. The system is showing signs of strain, and is riddled with bad practice. Is the current life cycle of this beautiful, affecting product desirable – or sustainable? Just askin’.

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2 Responses »

  1. [...] The Results One baguette stood tall: Première Moisson. Irresistibles brand from Metro was not far behind, followed by Ace. Judges were disappointed by the bread from upscale purveyor Whole Foods, which loafed into last place. Off the Menu The simplest thing to serve with good bread is also the most sumptuous: butter. We recommend pairing the winning Première Moisson baguette with another Shelf Life showdown champion, Ontario’s own Golden Dawn butter. To read the complete butter tasting column, visit [...]

  2. [...] Ontario’s own Golden Dawn butter. To read the complete butter tasting column visit our archives here. Tagged as: Ace Bakery, Baguette, Boulangerie, crust, french bread, French Bread laws, French [...]

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