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It's not a particularly hard morning at work when we get to taste butter with the folks from Vermont Creamery. The 35-year-old business is known for their crème fraîche and mascarpone, and now they're expanding their butter line, too. The team stopped by the test kitchen to share their latest—and possibly greatest—product. This month, they're launching two versions of cultured butter sticks—unsalted and sea salt. "We wanted to make better butter, but with so much butter out there, we wanted a way to distinguish ourselves," says Adeline Druart, president of Vermont Creamery. Of course, the test kitchen editors were fascinated by the product and the process.
What Is Cultured Butter?
Cultured butter is a fermented butter, which means that the cream has been aged with cultures for about a day. Cultured butter has a distinct, tangy flavor with all of the creaminess of rich European butter. Before even getting to the churning stage, Vermont Creamery lets their high-fat cream age for 20 hours in a process that creamery supervisor Joey Conner compares to aging wine or cheese. "The cultures are a lactic acid bacteria that eat the sugars in the cream and change the fat and pH by breaking off some of the enzymes," he explains. As the pH level becomes more acidic, notes of hazelnut begin to emerge. The longer the cream ages, the more pronounced the tangy flavor will be.
What's So Special About Cultured Butter?
Aside from a unique taste, cultured butter is a labor of love and patience from butter makers. Deputy Food Editor Greg Lofts asked what a product needs to be sold as a cultured butter, and Adeline explained: "Cultured butter in the marketplace doesn't have a lot of regulation. You can flavor it with a culture flavor or enhancer and you know that it's there because your mouth dries up and puckers. We compare it to wine making—you can either age it in oak barrels or you can add cherry flavor." When done right, cultured butter can elevate a slice of bread or flaky croissant with a depth of flavor unlike any other butter. We recommend using cultured butter in baking recipes where the flavor will really stand out, such as shortbread cookies, pound cake, biscuits, or try it in mashed potatoes.
Five to six batches per week are produced by just three butter makers at the Vermont Creamery headquarters in Websterville, Vermont. Milk comes from local co-op St. Albans Cooperative—the same one that a little-known ice cream maker called Ben and Jerry's relies on. "It doesn't get fresher than this," says Joey. But it's not just about what's on the inside of the package; the box and wrappers are made from 100% post-consumer waste, sans bleach on the wax paper.
Does the Butterfat Content Make a Difference?
In short, yes. Regular American butter typically has 80% butterfat, which is why it often lacks flavor and takes a long time to come to room temperature. European butter has more regulations and is required to contain at least 82% butterfat, which results in creamier, richer, better-tasting butter. Vermont Creamery's Cultured Butter sticks contain 82% butterfat, which happens to be the same amount as the ever-popular Irish Kerrygold.
Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter is available at Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Publix for $3.99 for a half-pound, two-stick pack. The butter will be available nationwide in June. And, if you're wondering, Martha liked the sweet cultured butter best.