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Butter is one of the most used food items in the world. We use it in cooking, baking, sauteing, and as a condiment for our crackers and toast. But there is a lot more to butter than its utilitarian purposes. In fact, really good butter can take center stage. That’s why we’ve done butter tastings to discover new flavors as well as learn about the differences between butters from around the world.

When we visited Frankfurt, Germany, we experienced a magnificent butter tasting at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Francais at the elegant Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof hotel. Since then, we have vowed not to take butter for granted.

To enjoy the subtleties of butter and create an even greater variety, we offer you some ideas for butters you can try and how to make your own compound butter combinations for a range of taste experiences. We highlight butter brands that should be available at your local grocer or online. Once you get the hang of it, you can let your imagination soar and create your own compound butters to enhance your everyday meals. You can taste butter directly from a small spoon or put some on a bland cracker, slice of baguette, or other bread low in salt. Water biscuits such as Carr’s work well.

The Butter Museum in Cork, Ireland.

1. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, Ireland

We were fortunate enough to visit Cork, Ireland, a place that some call butter ground zero. Today you can visit the Butter Museum to learn all about the history and making of butter in Ireland. Kerrygold is one of the most popular brands of butter in Ireland and around the world. One of the reasons is that it is made from the milk of Irish grass-fed cows without growth hormones. This provides a bright yellow color and smooth, creamy texture. Kerrygold comes in salted and unsalted varieties, so you can try them both. It’s carried at most major grocery stores, and if you really like it, Costco carries 4-count packs for an excellent price.

2. Beurre D'Isigny, France

The French are known for taking their wine and cheese seriously. So it should come as no surprise that the same goes for butter. One of the best comes with the A.O.P. (a protected designation of origin, similar to Champagne) of Beurre D ‘Isigny. This naturally golden butter is made from grass-fed cows in a small area of northern France. There are several brands from which to choose and they come in lightly salted and unsalted varieties in different forms such as sheets for baking, foiled rolls, and paper-wrapped tubs. The popular Isigny Ste Mere brand can be found at many grocers, cheese shops, and online at Amazon, among others.

3. Lurpak, Denmark

When a butter receives a score of 99.8 out of 100 in a world championship competition, chances are that’s a really good butter. So it is with Lurpak, the winner made in Denmark, using all-natural ingredients and fresh Danish milk. It has a low moisture content so it is quite dense and creamy. It comes in lightly salted and salted varieties. And, if you’re a fan of compound butters -- butter with added ingredients such as herbs or spices -- Lurpak also has a butter with crushed garlic.

Butter from the Vermont Creamery.

4. Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter, U.S.

The United States is no slouch when it comes to producing butter. In fact, if you wanted to conduct an entire butter tasting using butters from within the nation, you would have plenty of options to make it great. But we’ll suggest something in the artisanal butter category that stands out in any crowd. Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter is European-style, meaning that it has live bacterial cultures added to ferment for a slightly tangy flavor. Some have called this “sexy butter,” because of its intense and seductive texture and flavor. Vermont Creamery has perfected the craft and offers two types, an 82 percent butterfat version in sticks or tubs and an insanely rich 86 percent butterfat butter. Both types come with or without sea salt. You’ll find it at many grocery stores and online at Amazon.

5. Smjor, Iceland

Iceland may be known for its natural wonders, but the land of fire and ice is also pretty good at making wonderful butter. With lots of green pastures and plenty of dairy farms operating around the country, high quality products are part of the scenery too. Luckily, some of Iceland’s delicious butter can be purchased outside of the country. The folks at Smjor offer their Icelandic creamery butter with a deep yellow color, and rich buttery flavor that comes from Icelandic cows originally brought from Norway in the 10th century. The use of growth hormones and steroids in cattle is banned in all of Iceland, and strict quality control is enforced. Smjor comes in both unsalted and lightly salted versions. You can find it at Whole Foods and other gourmet shops.

6. Goat Butter, Around The World

Some people have trouble digesting typical milk products made in the United States. One solution is A2 milk products, such as Origin A2 Butter. Another is to explore different milks, such as that from goats. This also makes for an interesting addition to any butter tasting. Goat butter has a lot of fans for its light and tangy flavor. It is definitely something different that will give your butter tasting an even broader range. You can find goat butter at stores with large dairy sections like Whole Foods or online at igourmet and others.

A butter tasting tray.

7. Compound Butters

As mentioned, a compound butter is butter that contains additional ingredients such as herbs and spices. They can be savory or sweet, and sometimes both. To round out your tasting, we recommend giving a few different compound butters a try. Lupak’s crushed garlic butter is a good example. Kerrygold has garlic and herb butter. For a variety of choices all in one place, Epicurean Butter has several savory and sweet compound butter flavors such as white truffle, chili lime, honey vanilla, and maple syrup.

It can be fun to make your own savory compound butters. To do so, simply choose a butter that you enjoy, place a quarter cup or one stick of it in a small bowl, and let it soften to room temperature. We recommend using unsalted butter, so you can add salt or not to suit your own taste. Choose herbs, spices, citrus zest, and grated cheeses that you like, whether alone or in combination. When the butter is soft, you’ll cut it into small pieces and blend in the other ingredients. If you have a food processor, you can just toss everything in there and blend.

Once you have mixed the butter, herbs, and spices together, place the mixture onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape it into a log and wrap, twisting the ends to seal. Place in the refrigerator for about two hours before using slices for your tasting. You can also make smaller portions by filling individual small ramekins instead.

Everyone has their own favorite combinations for savory compound butters but here are a few of ours:

Savory Compound Butters

  • Sweet basil and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Lemon zest, garlic, and dill weed
  • Bacon bits, horseradish, cheddar, and chives
  • Chili powder, cilantro, and lime zest
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and parsley
  • “Everything bagel” spice mix
  • Tarragon, dijon mustard, snd black pepper
  • Kalamata olive pieces, feta cheese crumbles, and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Turmeric, coriander, cumin, and sumac
  • Nori, Old Bay seasoning, and bonito flakes

Sweet Compound Butters

Sweet compound butters can include spices as well as ingredients such as fruit, jams, nuts, chocolates, and even candy pieces.

  • Honey butter is a classic sweet compound butter
  • Brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg -- if you like nuts, add some crushed pecans
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips and sea salt
  • Pumpkin pie spice and turbinado sugar
  • Sweet cherry pieces and dark chocolate bits
  • Huckleberry jam
  • Coffee powder, heavy cream, and sugar

For a sweet-hot compound butter, try honey, sriracha, and garlic.

Butter tastings are so much fun and each one can be as different as your imagination allows. There are delicious butters from all over the world, and more than just a few wonderful artisanal butters close to home. And be sure to keep the leftovers to enjoy with your future meals.

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