I eat a lot of different foods. Complicated, easy, expensive, cheap, exotic, mundane....you get the picture. If it's edible, I'm gonna try it. Regardless of how many different foods and combinations of foods I eat, I always go back to one seemingly simple combination: warm bread and salted butter. This simple combination always makes me smile. Think about it. Who doesn't like buttered toast or the crisp snap of a proper grilled cheese sandwich? OK, before the diet and cholesterol police get too excited, let's move away from the idea that 'butter is BAD' and let's treat butter as a luxury ingredient.
There are a few food stuffs that I have an amazing love affair with. One is bacon and another is butter. I started out liking bacon, but realizing that if it was made on a small scale, it could be way better than commercial bacons that are bought in the store. So, a couple of years ago, I started on a journey to make the best bacon I could and through much trial and error(what a tough job; eating bacon and trying to figure out how to make it better....) Now, we're getting raw pork bellies that are raised in an amazing manner and we have a recipe that I think makes some of the most amazing bacon I've ever tasted. Yes, at one point, I even did a blind 'bacon tasting' where I lined up four of the most commercially sought after bacons and mine. We had some cocktails and ate bacon all night. Now that's my idea of a dinner party! Come to think of it, in the interest of quality control, I think it's time for another bacon tasting. Who's in?
Anyhow, I told you that story, so that I could tell you this one. I've always admired great butter and have even tried my hand at making it a couple of times, but I never was able to get the flavor that I wanted. Again, I'm coming back to the idea of terroir. I think food should taste like where it came from and dairy products are a great vehicle for doing this. So, I've tried many different angles to get where I want to be, but I never really felt like the product was a 'knock it out of the park' success. It was good, but not in any way remarkable and if we were going to produce this butter at the restaurant, it needed to be remarkable to warrant the time it takes to produce. So, last week, I got the butter itch again and decided it was time to get a technique together that was going to produce a remarkable butter. Honestly, I was just thinking to myself, 'it's time to stop pissing around and make an amazing butter. So here we go.
The first issue: Starting with amazing local cream. Well, we get our dairy products delivered in cool ass glass bottles from an amazing farm outside of East Berlin called Apple Valley Creamery, so check that bad boy off the list.
Next issue: Technique and tools. I'm lucky enough that our kitchen has a large number of historical kitchen tools lining the walls, one of which is a butter churn. We also already have a china cap and marble slab for tempering chocolate. So, check.
As for the technique. I churned the butter until the buttermilk 'broke' and then drained the buttermilk off. I then scooped the butter out of the churn and placed it in the china cap and rinsed it off with cold water until the water ran clear. Then it was on to the marble slab, where i kneaded the butter until all appearance of moisture was going.
So, now it was time to add the salt. Incidentally, I churned 3 quarts of Apple Valley cream and once all the kneading was finished, I ended up with about 2 pounds 9 ounces of butter. OK, salt time. What to do, what to do? Do I want to add kosher salt to this butter or something a little different. One thing I love about aged cheeses is getting that little pop of salt in your mouth. I LOVE that. So, I wanted salt with a larger crystal. So, grey salt? fleur de sel? I knocked out grey salt because I wanted a cleaner flavor for the butter and fleur de sel is a much cleaner flavor, BUT I decided to go with my current salt crush, Maldon.
The final step in this process was to place the butter back on the marble and knead in the salt. Once that was finished, it was time to taste.
I have to preface the tasting portion of this post by saying this. Cooks are strange people.(If you read this blog, you already know that) We are around food all the time, think about food all the time and taste food all the time. So, it's not real easy to impress us. However, when you have a product that cooks keep dipping their spoons or knives into like it's some new addictive drug, you know you've got something special on your hands. That's what happened with this butter. Before we could turn around, the cries of 'where the hell is the rest of the bread' started. Everyone was guilty and not ashamed of it. Listen, I already get what I feel is the best bread outside of Philly and NYC(and better than ANYTHING I've had in DC, sorry.) So, once that bread was a little warm and this butter slowly melted into it's yeasty pores......it was 'eyes roll back in your head good'. Seriously.
The final step was bagging it up and storing it.
Due to the time it takes to produce this butter, we're only offering it as a compliment to the bread course on our saturday tastings. However, and I don't really do this much, I will tell you that now that we've got this recipe and technique down, tasting the butter alone is worth the cost of the tasting. So, if you haven't yet tried our multi-course tasting, what's wrong with you? AND, if you have, this is a perfect reason to come back soon!(I'm talking to you, GreenAkeys.)