Monday, 1 February 2016

The Grand Butter Test commences

You and Yours on BBC Radio 4 today at lunchtime did a piece on butter sales, which are on the up. Apparently the latest thinking is that butter is OK, that it never deserved an evil reputation. And that other fats, once thought to be much better for one's health, are now found to have some problems - especially when used for cooking.

I was relieved to hear that one of the 'other fats', olive oil, is still healthy when used cold. But I was even more pleased to hear that in moderation good old butter is not going to kill me off, and is in fact still the first choice for modern chefs.

I knew it. I always believed that natural foodstuffs, barely modified - one might add a little salt to butter, but nothing else is required - are bound to be best; and not artificial or highly-refined products (most of which are heavily-marketed with lots of trendy persuasive lifestyle advertising - and like many things of this nature seem to be an expensive con).

I'm sure some people reading this will think that I've simply been given convenient news that I badly wanted to hear. And that I should not embrace pure undiluted butter without using caution and restraint. Well, of course. I entirely agree. Need I mention that 'Caution And Restraint' was the family motto? Need I point out that 'Caution And Restraint' are also the very three words I chant nightly in Stygian crypts when defying ghouls and demons of the nether world - and the usual words I mutter when faced with any doubtful situation at all?

But how nice it is to find that butter was never actually harmful! What did that chef say on the programme? 'Fat is your friend'. And especially butter.

Well, thus enthused, I drove off to Lewes and bought not only two makes of butter, but a rather nice butter dish to put it in. Because of course 'proper' butter comes wrapped up in paper, and not in a plastic tub. You need a receptacle. And a china container helps to keep it at the right temperature on the worktop - butter straight from the fridge being too hard to spread, of course. This is the butter dish I purchased, freshly washed before use:

I rather like that cockerel motif. The dish cost £16.99 at the Steamer Trading Cookshop. It will look good not just on the worktop, but at the dining table if I have people over for lunch - better than a plastic tub would, anyway.

And these were the two butters. One was Essential Waitrose Salted Dairy Butter at £0.95 for 250g. The other was Lurpak Slightly Salted Butter at £1.70 for 250g. The Waitrose product was 98.3% butter and 1.7% salt. The Lurpak product was a mixture of butter and 'lactic culture' (whatever that is), amounting to 98.8%, with only 1.2% salt. I had been using Lurpak Spreadable, at £3.25 for 500g (equivalent to £1.63 for 250g), which adds in some vegetable oil; and I'd been finding it very pleasant, but not of course quite like real butter. Now I could make some comparisons. What was there about the two Lurpak products that justified charging the consumer 68p-75p more per 250g?

I decided to pop the Lurpak Slightly Salted Butter into the freezer for now, and commence my Grand Butter Test with the Essential Waitrose Salted Dairy Butter. I unwrapped it. Gosh, that looked like the right colour, and no mistake!

I dropped it into the new dish, cut a couple of thin crusty bread slices, and was ready to go.

It was good tasty bread - and rather nice butter! I could taste the salt, but it wasn't as salty as I expected. Lurpak Spreadable contained only 0.9% salt, but seemed scarcely less salty to my taste. It will be interesting to find out what flavour the all-butter Lurpak has, and whether it's worth paying more for a possibly better taste.

Of course, there's something else to bear in mind. Lurpak Spreadable is a great all-rounder. It has a good flavour and is perfectly fine for cooking and spreading. Both the 'proper butters' should be even better for cooking, but they will both present me with the traditional snag: they won't spread all that easily - or thinly - on anything other than toast. So deciding which is the 'best' butter may rest on convenience, not just taste.


  1. Lucy, you should try Beurre d'Isigny which I am sure your fancy grocer will sell, so good you gan just cut chunks off and eat it, on a fresh crusty bread there is almost nothing better. Spreading butter was not a problem before homes got warmer and butter started to hide in the fridge. I like unsalted for cooking.

    Don't you sometimes think we are being played with? Everything we are told is true is contradicted a decade or so later...

  2. If my 'fancy grocer' does indeed sell the butter you've recommended, I will certainly give it a try.

    Yes, the best advice on what to eat seems to swing around like a weathercock. Eggs have made a comeback in the health stakes, and now butter is rehabilitated. What next? Bacon? Can bacon be evil when generations of film crews have survived, nay thrived, on little else?

    Expect a backlash from the health food industry very shortly.



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