I got a Costco membership just for the butter. Hundreds of dollars later, I still haven’t found the butter I was aiming for, which is sort of ironic.
What is my magic bullet butter, you ask?
I thought Kerrygold was my only option for grassfed butter that I could trust.
Why? Other people trusted it.
I had tasted it on a trip to Florida and knew it was a deep yellow and quite delicious. I was excited to finally upgrade our butter.
Then on my first trip to Costco, I couldn’t find regular Kerrygold sticks, only this new “softer” butter:
Butter in a tub made me wonder…so I just bought one to test it out and do a little research. Here’s what I think about the new Kerrygold “softer” butter.
Ironically, again, just weeks after paying for that membership, I discovered a new source for not only grassfed butter, but organic and made in the U.S. as well.
What to Look for in Quality Butter
Up until just a few months ago, I was buying butter wherever it was on sale, preferably at $1.99/lb. Occasionally I would spring for some local butter (Cedar Crest) that our milk farm resold at $3.75/lb., but it was only a small upgrade, in my opinion, from conventional butter for almost double the cost.
It’s one of those things that’s made me squirm for a while, since I know the hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals likely concentrate in the fat of the animal, and butter from consciously raised animals should have been high on my priority list because of it.
We go through a good deal of butter around here, though, and I wasn’t yet ready to spend triple the price for organic butter at the local health food store. I wasn’t sure what the cost of the Kerrygold would be at Costco, but I was finally ready to pay more for what I was pretty sure was the only pastured butter I could find.
As I did with quality cheese yesterday, I’d like to offer my checklist, in order of importance, when looking for quality, traditional, nourishing butter:
- No hormones
- No antibiotics
- Grassfed/pastured – the CLA, Vitamins A&D, and high omega 3s from truly grassfed cattle can’t be beat!
- From May/June milk; even higher in Vitamins A&D and more!
- Locally sourced; small farmers
For more info on meat, fish, and cheese, check out all the posts in the Sourcing Quality Animal Products series…
Raw, Cultured Butter from May/June Cows
You can’t buy it in stores.
Federal regulations prohibit the sale of raw butter, so the only way to get what I feel is the best butter in the world is to make it yourself. For the past few years, I have faithfully skimmed about half the cream off each gallon of May/June raw milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows, which still left plenty of cream in the milk. I freeze it as I go then make one big batch of butter after culturing with buttermilk for 24 hours.
I freeze the few pounds I make and pull it out starting in October to help my family benefit from the Vitamin D boost in the dark winter months. We only use it raw on things like toast (a rare occurrence nowadays) or baked potatoes or steamed vegetables. My stash usually lasts until spring one way or another.
Sadly, this year, with our new farm’s mix of many breeds, I just didn’t feel like the cream was abundant enough to be sneaking any out for butter, so I didn’t make any this year.
If you’d like to learn to make your own, it really is quite easy and fun, but be ready for a big mess and about 1-2 hours of work to process a few gallons of cream. Here are my old picture tutorials:
May/June butter has so many extra nutrients, like omega 3s and Vitamins A&D, because the cows are on fast-growing grass from the spring rains. This butter will be markedly yellow in color (see picture above at right), truly different from butter made from the same cows in the winter on hay, and not even a comparison to store butter made from grainfed cattle.
Here’s an old photo (sorry about the lighting) comparing my own homemade butter from winter/early spring to May/June butter:
Can you guess which is which? Same cows, same process, only different time of year.
If you can’t make your own butter – even if I owned cows, I probably couldn’t keep up with what I’d want for my family – here are some other options for purchasing quality butter.
As I mentioned in today’s other post about Kerrygold, Kerrygold has its place and is a good butter to buy, especially if it’s the only “better butter” you can find.
- small farmers
- no hormones
- summer milk/cream
- imported (think about your carbon footprint)
- not organic
- not cultured
You can find out more about Kerrygold butter at their website.
That white butter on top is Meijer butter, and no, it’s not the flash making it such a different color. If anything, the Kalona underneath is yellower in person than when I’m snapping a quick photo before dinner! The beautiful top photo with the glistening yellow butter is also Kalona.
My son, who isn’t usually much of a butter lover, went ga-ga over Kalona’s butter. He immediately remarked about the yellow color, and asks to make sure he’s getting “the good stuff.” I do not kid you when I say it’s probably the best butter I’ve ever tasted, but it definitely comes at a price. Brace yourself when you click over…
- small farmers, conscientiously raised animals
- high in omega 3s and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- carbon footprint from shipping
- price: about $45-50 for 6 pounds, plus shipping (it’s worth playing around with the quantities…for example, 3 pounds ships for $10 to me but 18 pounds is only $12)
I’d rather buy local butter, but as I mentioned above, I really haven’t found the perfect source yet. I don’t know that I could stomach paying full price for Kalona either.
UPDATE 2014: If you see Kalona anywhere in your town, especially on sale, grab it like hotcakes! Their Nordic Creamery butter is a good alternative – not nearly as gorgeously yellow, but a very nice butter in a funny package. My kids had so many questions about the “big roll of butter!”
May/June Grassfed, Organic: Organic Valley Pastured
When I mentioned that for some odd reason, I’ve never really tried Organic Valley cheese (or butter) in yesterday’s post, readers chimed in with lots of great information. Upon a quick visit to Organic Valley’s website, I was tickled to find that they sell special “pastured butter” seasonally. It’s made from cows grazing only on grass at the “height of the season,” defined as May through September. It’s likely (but still not totally guaranteed) that the cows are on pasture 100% of the time.
This special butter (which may be a bit hard to find if I’m assuming correctly) is also cultured.
One reader who emailed says that Organic Valley butter “definitely has that “grass-fed” cow taste to it.” Great news! I’ll be on the lookout for a taste test at our health food stores in town…
Cultured: Ilios Greek Yogurt Butter and Organic Valley Cultured
I just got a sample of Ilios Greek Yogurt Butter yesterday, and I had to crack it open at breakfast and find something to put it on. It was pretty good on a cracker, but it’s no bright yellow, grassfed Kerrygold or Kalona.
However, Ilios did hit upon something that’s kind of a cool idea: mixing yogurt with butter. For those of us who appreciate our probiotics, we get cultured butter. For the rest of society that’s afraid of fat, they get some of the fat replaced with protein (30 calories less per Tbs. than regular butter and 1g protein). I wasn’t able to find a price for this product, however, and I wonder if it’s a premium. For me, that wouldn’t be worth it.
- real butter
- cultured/probiotics (5 active strains including acidophilus)
- small farmers
- rBST free
- what the cows eat: unknown – might be partially grassfed since it’s at least small farms, but I figure if the company isn’t shouting the good stuff from the rooftops, they probably don’t know enough to do the good stuff.
- not organic – pesticides and antibiotics probable
- in plastic tubs – a negative from the environmental standpoint and that it’s harder to measure for recipes (although I see they do have sticks, I think, in that picture)
Ilios says it bakes just like butter, but I haven’t tried that yet. What do you think? A product worth grabbing, or just an interesting new marketing twist capitalizing on the country’s apparent love for Greek yogurt?
Organic Valley also has a cultured butter which I would love to try to compare to my homemade. It seems to get good reviews from customers at their website. Of course, the cultured, pastured butter would be better…
UPDATE: a reader alerted me that the Kerrygold UNsalted butter is cultured, too! I think I have some in my fridge; I’ll have to try it and let you know – what great news!
I tried to figure out where Sjmor might be found in my area after reading this butter tasting story, but I had no luck. It sounds great and is another brand to keep an eye out for. Here’s another fun butter tasting story from the East Coast…
Storing Butter: the Butter Bell
I’ve often been asked by readers if I have heard of the Butter Bell, but until last month, I had never seen one. Here in Michigan, you really have to leave butter on the counter for quite a long time before it molds or goes rancid. I’ve only seen it happen twice.
The idea of a butter bell crock is that it will keep the butter preserved but still soft and spreadable, so you can keep it on the countertop without worry. You have to let a stick of butter or 1/2 cup soften, then pack it into the bowl part, then flip that bowl with butter upside down into a crock which has 1/3 cup cold water in the bottom. The water forms a seal so air and odors can’t touch the butter.
In the photo above, we set the bowl part on top of the crock to serve. To store, you’d flip over the whole bowl and the lid/handle comes out of the crock an ends up on top. Here are some visuals and tutorials for how it works.
- very cute
- easy to use
- traditional French style of storing butter…I just like that!
- definitely keeps butter soft – although I’d love to try it in the winter when the house is 64F to compare as well
- have to remember to change the water every 3 days
- the top of the butter gets wet when the dish is full – that seems odd to me (?)
- I didn’t pack the butter in perfectly and it fell out into the water once… user error!
How do you store your butter? Do you have any recommendations for quality butters? (And have your kids been trained that yellow butter is better butter?)
Disclosure: I received samples from Kerrygold (but haven’t opened them yet), Butter Bell, and Ilios, but my opinion –clearly – remains my own. No money changed hands for this post, just fat. See my full disclosure statement here.