London food bloggers butter and salt tasting – Part I

by Jeanne on November 15, 2006

in London food blogger events

20061028_buttertastingbloggers_1

The London food bloggers go incognito for the tasting.  Can you guess who’s who? ;-)

Well, we’ve tried (amongst others) canapes, chocolate, Spanish food & wine, and Mexican food.  So why on earth not salt and butter?  Yup, the London food bloggers were, 3 Saturdays ago, once more to be found crowded around a table, eating, drinking, laughing and talking obsessively about food.  We gathered at Johanna’s house to sample a selection of salted and unsalted butters, and a selection of salt from the very cheap to the very expensive.  Fat and salt – my idea of a perfect day out! 

My day started considerably earlier than the actual tasting when I made my way to Kings Cross station to meet up with… the uber-fabulous Moira!  Now Moira and I have been e-mailing and phoning for the better part of two years – we’ve laughed, cried and ranted on the phone, we’ve exchanged parcels, we’ve swapped volumes of e-mail.  But somehow we’ve never managed to meet up, despite the fact that she lives an easy train ride from London.  And bizarrely, it seems that the catalyst that finally got us together is the fact that she’s heading back to the USA next year :-( But better late than never, I always say.  Poor Moira certainly got to see the glamorous side of London – not!  First Kings Cross, and then my office (where I’d cunningly left the tasting sheets), but she took it in good spirit.  And one black cab ride and a train trip later, we were knocking on Johanna‘s front door.

20061028_buttersNow when you taste wine, there is a nice, established framework within which you taste – colour (out of 3), nose (out of 7) and palate (out of 10), giving you a fairly reliable mark out of 20.  But we were sort of at a loss for what the proper criteria were with butter.  In the end we plumped for colour, smell, texture and taste.  So far so good.  But the next problem we encountered was how in hell to describe the stuff?  Wine can smell like tobacco or ripe fruit or tart red berries, or apples or wood or vanilla… but butter smells, erm, buttery, or maybe creamy! I am hoping that one day a professional butter taster (for surely they must exist?) reads this and lets me in on the game.  But until then you will have to make do with my remarkably limited butter lexicon below!  And fyi, all butters were tasted blind – all we had was the block of butter on a plate and a number to associate it with.  We tasted the butters "neat" and also on slices of Poilane bread, but my notes refer only to the neat tasting.

The unsalted butters

1. Lescure beurre doux (France – Charentes) Very pale yellow – the second palest of all the butters.  Very faint buttery or creamy smell.  Very smooth and light texture, melts quickly on the tongue.  Tastes like Philadelphia cream cheese.  Rated 5/10 by me and  3.8/10 by the group on average.

2. Country Life unsalted (UK) Pale yellow colour with a slightly more pronounced smell than the previous butter.  Smooth and melts easily in the mouth, but the block of butter on the plate stayed the firmest for the longest at room temperature.  Very sweet taste – almost like eating clotted cream.  Rated 7/10 by me (I loved the sweet cream taste) but only 2.8/10 by the group on average.

3.  [Was salted - so I have discussed it under the salted butters heading]

4.  Lurpak unsalted (Denmark) Pale yellow colour.  Smelt very faintly of sour cream but not unpleasantly so.  Smooth and unremarkable texture.  Tasted like double cream but with a very slightly sour cream edge – but not unpleasant.  Rated 6/10 by me and 4.5/10 by the group on average.

5.  Teebutter  (Austria – Salzburg)  This was the second darkest butter on the plate with more of a buttercup hue to it.  It had a very faint buttery aroma and melted smoothly and very quickly on the tongue.  This was another one with a definite clotted cream taste – in fact it reminded me of number 2 – but at least this butter had the decency to go a bit squishy after an hour at room temperature, unlike no. 2!  Rated 7/10 by me and 4.8 by the group on average . 

6.  Beppino Occeli (Italy – Piemonte) This was by far the palest butter on the plate – it was almost pure white! And this one had a distinct sour cream aroma – most people were already put off by that!  Although it was smooth on the tongue, the taste definitely had a sour cream tang to it – and we did verify that it was not past its sell-by date or anything.  Also, as it was a brand new unopened pat of butter, it couldn’t have absorbed funny smells form the firdge – that’s just the way it smelt and tasted.  Definitely everyone’s least favourite.  Rated 2/10 by me and 1.6/10 by the group on average. 

Salted butters (generally yellower than the unsalted):

3.  Artisanal clotted cream farm butter from Neal’s Yard (UK – Priors) This had the best colour of all the butters – a real buttercup yellow.  It looked almost "crumbly" in texture, but this was probably due to it sticking to the knife while being cut.  Almost no smell that I could detect.  It melted very fast and didn’t keep its shape for long. It was VERY salty – almost no taste apart from salt, but no textural evidence of salt. Almost no aftertaste. Rated 5/10 by me and 4.6/10 by the group on average.

7.  Waitrose own-brand Guernsey butter (UK) Very yellow, looks like a cheddar. Melts really fast. Almost no smell. Very salty, but the salt is not texturally obvious. Leaves a salty aftertaste. Rated 6/10 by me and 4.2/10 by the group on average.

8.  Bridel Beurre demi-sel with fleur de sel de Guerande (France – Brittany) Pale yellow. Very faintly creamy smell. Smooth consistency, but you can taste the grains of salt – deliciously crunchy. Absolutely fabulous taste. Saltiness and creaminess perfectly in balance with a very long and creamy aftertaste. The best by far. Rated 10/10 by me and 8.2/10 by the group on average (although some people wanted to give it more than 10/10!)

9.  Moorhayes Farmhouse salted (UK – Somerset) Pale yellow. Very faintly creamy smell. Texture very firm – almost like feta cheese. Not quite as delicious as Bridel, somehow less easy to melt in the mouth, but still a good balance of creaminess and saltiness with a creamy aftertaste. Rated 9/10 by me and 6.7/10 by the group on average.

So there you have it – my attempt at distiguishing 9 butters in some sort of methodical way.  Some observations that deserve to be highlighted include the following: 

a)  I much prefer salted to unsalted butter, so my scores probably reflect this.  Hell – I love butter, so my scores probably reflect that!

b)  Eating butter on bread makes it far harder to tell whether or not it is salted.  Butter no. 3 could have passed for unsalted if you only tasted it on bread, but once you tasted it alone it became obvious that it was salted. 

c)  The salted butters were all deeper in colour than the unsalted butters.

d) The butters definitely melted at different rates, with some retaining their shape for an alarmingly long time and others becoming squishy very soon.  Maybe somebody with more knowledge than me of chemistry can explain what determines the different rates of melting, given a constant ambient temperature??

What was surprising was how different butters taste when you sample them side by side.  I was also amazed at how clear the overall loser (Beppino Occelli) and winner (Bridel) were.  The Beppino Occelli was particularly disappointing in that it came first in a worldwide butter tasting for The Wine Spectator in 2000 and first in a tasting of European butters for The Guardian in 2002 – but last in our book!!  All we can think is that the seasonal variation in the butter is great enough to explain this – the website says that the butter changes in colour (and presumably flavour?) as the cows’ diet changes with the seasons.  The Bridel, on the other hand, was universally loved.  It was salty, creamy amd melty in all the right proportions.  And it was the only butter that prompted me to fininsh the whole cube.  Mmmmm.  And I think we were all peasantly surprised that the Bridel butter cost less than £2!  Talk about affordable luxury…

All told, I think it was a very instructive exercise and something everybody should try, even if it’s just with one mass-produced and one more artisanal butter, to see that you really can taste the difference.

Up next was the salt tasting – which I will tell you all about shortly in Part II of this post.

And for those of you who are aching to know who the incognito bloggers were, here they are again, more easily identifiable ;-)

20061028_buttertastingbloggersuncovered 

From left to right we have Johanna (The Passionate Cook), Xochitl (Xochitl Cooks), Andrew (SpittoonExtra), me (Cooksister! ), Bill (Bill Please) and Moira (Who Wants Seconds?) – who swears she is going to start blogging again when she returns to the USA!  Woo hoo!

**STOP PRESS**  Spookily, on the same day as we were holding our butter tasting, The Times published the results of their tasting of unsalted butters.  Thanks Herschellian for directing me to this article!

Related posts: 

London food bloggers salt tasting

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie November 16, 2006 at 4:48 pm

You deserve a medal for getting Moira out of hiding!!

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johanna November 16, 2006 at 5:16 pm

ah! what a fun time we had!!! i actually think you’ve done some great pioneering work here in establishing some common vocabulary for butter tasting that will benefit future generations to come (if they don’t ban butter for being too delicious and sinful)! I will, one of these days, have a go at my summary as well…

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johanna November 16, 2006 at 5:17 pm

oh and, forgot to mention, it was fabulous to meet Moira, I wish she wouldn’t move and I also wish she’d come out of hiding sooner – now we know what we’ve been missing ;-)

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herschelian November 16, 2006 at 9:07 pm

Did you see this blind tasting of unsalted butters that featured in the Times? http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,632-2420304,00.html

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neil November 17, 2006 at 3:18 am

What you wrote about the Beppino Occelli reminded me of the time I bought some farmhouse cultured butter. At the time I didn’t realise it was meant for baking, not eating fresh and your description sort of reminds me of that flavour. Or maybe it wasn’t stored properly and had gone rancid, but anyway I’m just guessing.

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David November 17, 2006 at 7:14 am

Love that Breton butter…and your new site design too!

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Pille November 18, 2006 at 8:27 pm

That’s a wonderful round-up, I’m so sorry I couldn’t attend! You must really like butter, seeing that you gave much consistently higher scores than the group average:)

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shuna fish lydon November 19, 2006 at 8:36 am

Yeah for treating butter as a food group! More butter tastings! They can only help my industry…
Seeing that first photo reminded me so much of how you all welcomed me into the Mexican Cookery Feast! What fun, but also educational group you have. Really you should all be so proud.

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Tam & Laura November 19, 2006 at 12:28 pm

Very interesting. Have you read Jeffrey Steingarten’s article about his salt tasting experiments?

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Tam & Laura November 19, 2006 at 12:28 pm

Very interesting. Have you read Jeffrey Steingarten’s article about his salt tasting experiments?

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Tam & Laura November 19, 2006 at 12:28 pm

Very interesting. Have you read Jeffrey Steingarten’s article about his salt tasting experiments?

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Jeanne November 22, 2006 at 10:53 am

Hi Stephanie
Oh, it wasn’t that hard – it only took about a year of abortive attempts to arrange a get together…! But hey – she’s worth it! :P
Hi Johanna
I think the tasting vocab was the hardest – trying to describe butter as something other than buttery and creamy! And now, the next challenge is describing the salt… Thanks again for being such a gracious hostess.
Hi Herschelian
I actually hadn’t – but I see that (bizarrely) it was published on the same day as our tasting! Thanks for the link. Interesting to see how they rated the Country Life and Lurpak that we also rated.
Hi Neil
You could be on to something there – if you baked with it, you wouldn’t notice the taste as much. But I would probably still go for a more neutral unsalted butter for baking.
Hi David
Glad you like the new look! And yes yes yes to Breton butter. Tesco has brought out a butter from Brittany with fleur de sel in their Finest range – surprisingly excellent!
Hi Pille
You would have had a ball – next time! And yes, I do adore butter and I have the hips to prove it ;-) Moira kept daring me to eat a whole cube of butter and I was like “where’s the fun in that? I’d do it purely for pleasure!” Scary culinary confessions!
Hi Shuna
It really was great fun, but educational at the same time (the way all teaching/learning should be!) – next time you come over we’ll definitely organise another event. And yeah – butter as an independent food group!!
Hi Tam & Laura
No I haven’t actually – I’ll have a trawl on the Net and see if I can find this. Thanks :-)

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