The taste of natural butter never went out of style, though the health quotient of the stuff has been bashed about for decades now. Short and sweet, here's the deal: Butter is full of fat, but it's digestible and has food value, particularly calcium and vitamin E. It's never a bad choice to slather butter on your food rather than fake spreads made from hydrogenated fats, which your body cannot break down. Butter is good to eat and good for you.
A variety of brands of butter on the shelves of my usual grocery store made me wonder, what's the difference? I thought that maybe a little research would help me recapture the all-time high of tasting my grandma's hand-churned butter, made from the cream of her farm-raised cows, spread on homemade bread still warm from the oven. Nothing's ever as good as the first, I found in my testing, but still I learned a few things. The criteria called for room temperature butter, salted. Each sampling was served on a bread puff pulled from a baguette. The prices are what I paid per 8 ounces, but they likely vary from store to store. My qualifications don't add up to much, except that I like butter a lot.
Sweet and light
Land O' Lakes Ultra Creamy Butter ($2.69)
Ultra Creamy was concocted by LOL with special attention given to its taste and spreadability. It is delicate in constitution, with a slightly tacky texture. The cut of a pale yellow pad was soft, and so was the tang as it melted in the mouth; the taste shortly lingered and cleanly departed. This is a suitable option for butter-phobes who fear any feeling of fat.
Dense and inconspicuous
Plugra European Style salted butter ($2, on sale)
The label proclaimed "preferred by chefs," and this is likely due to the absence of a dominating presence, especially desirable when it comes to baked goods. The consistency was uniform, and there was little to no actual taste. The texture was the oiliest of the bunch, and the block held together firmly, even with no refrigeration, unlike the others. According to the website, "European Style" refers to its "lower moisture and higher in butterfat" recipe.
Nutty and firm
Lurpak Danish Butter ($2.99)
Imported from Denmark, a country that stands proud of its century-old dairy industry, Lurpak had the most distinctive taste — a nutty quality that may be what the company calls a "delicate subtle lactic taste." The texture was relatively waxy, and the butter didn't as readily melt in the mouth. As different as it tasted, Lurpak is a pleasant change from the traditional creamy, sweet sensation.
Rich and charming
Kerrygold Butter ($2.95, on sale)
Purely appealing, Ireland import Kerrygold has a feel-good name that conjures the image of lush, green pasturelands in any butter-lover's mind. Indeed, "happy cows" are what the company claims as its secret. The hefty taste was most obvious to this tester, and Kerrygold had the yellowest color of the sampled butters. A tangy taste exploded as soon as it hit the tongue, carrying through with a thick cream flavor that cleanly disappeared in time for another bite. It's our favorite for the table.
Strong and ethnic
Lowell Foods Extra Butter ($3.60)
Poland holds a reputation for stout food and drink — no messing around — and their butter is no exception. Drawn from Polish cows, the milk used to make this maslo (in native language) is not for wimps: It has a hearty, sweet and creamy flavor that also can be smelled. Such a powerful essence speaks to the freshness of the unadulterated product and probably what Polish cows eat. (We couldn't find out that information, but did find out that the Polish dairy industry is on the rise.) This taste came closest to recalling the butter I ate in my Polish grandmother's kitchen. (Purchased from Europol Polish Deli, 3090 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 407-678-0909)firstname.lastname@example.org