Photo credit: StockFood / Amanda Heywood
I like bread and butter,
I like toast and jam,
That’s what my baby feeds me,
I’m her loving man.
—The Newbeats, “Bread and Butter”
It’s tough not to agree with this point; butter, at its creamy best, is one of those foods—right alongside caviar and foie gras, lobsters and ice cream—where the temptation is to simply say: DON’T MESS WITH IT.
So the news that chefs are toying with butter got our butter-loving hackles up a bit. It’s one thing to make a compound butter (butter with mix-ins, hurrah!) and another to brush it with whiskey and coat it in ash, as chef Zak Pelaccio is doing in New York City. Chefs are starting to treat butter as they do cheese, from aging to bark wraps, with the sky seemingly the limit.
Atera, also in New York, made the roundup, which caught our eye for one good reason: They’re aging butter with cheese in it. These are two favorite foods from a favorite food group, and Atera chef Matt Lightner is doing it right; he infuses cream with one heck of a cheese—Winnimere, a washed-rind raw cow’s milk fromage from Jasper Hill Farm that has been wrapped in spruce bark.
Atera chef de cuisine Jaime Young told us the team uses “one part cheese to nine parts cream,” letting the mixture culture for up to two weeks at room temperature, along with a bit of spruce from the rind of the Winnimere. Then everything is blitzed together, aged for yet another week, and served with flaky sea salt, a pork fat–drenched roll, and a few slices of warm bread.
Photo credit: Alex Van Buren
We had to try it for ourselves. At first blush, the mouthfeel of the butter is suspiciously unctuous; we found ourselves asking Young if perhaps some pork fat had snuck in there. He laughed and said no, but that “for some people that butter with the pork roll is too much.” (We did not have this problem.)
On its own, up close, the butter has the bouquet of the cheese itself. It’s easy to see why, as we learned when we lugged some Winnimere back to the office—its bouquet perfumed the entire floor of the building.
Photo credit: Julia Bainbridge
It was ripe as could be, and had the aroma to prove it. Trying to discern butter from cheese from cheese-butter, we tasted the Winnimere side by side with both Atera’s cheese-butter and salted butter from Vermont Creamery. Here’s what we discovered:
This is a fine, fine cheese. It’s reminiscent of a French Époisses, all decadent, drooling goodness. Incredibly aromatic, intense, wonderful, with a knockout, lightly-barnyardy-but-in-a-good-way bouquet.
Vermont Creamery butter:
Tastes about like a butter should. Decent, somewhat creamy, a tiny bit salty, consistently flavored.
Whoa. If a butter can make another butter taste like a cheap date by comparison, this one did. It was as creamy as food can get—the Platonic ideal of creaminess. Thanks to a hint of tanginess (it’d been sitting out for weeks, after all), it tasted like the most elegant crème fraîche ever invented. The bouquet of the cheese dissipated on the palate. It was at the very least the most interesting butter this writer has ever eaten, and at most, possibly the best.
The moral of the story: Sometimes it IS good to mess with a good thing.