What do you taste when you taste butter? Richness from fat? Sweetness from milk solids? Alain Ducasse can taste so much more. And during a meal with Blue Hill's Dan Barber, he proved that his palate is shockingly, bewilderingly acute when it comes to butter.
Ducasse had come to Stone Barns in New York's Hudson Valley for a photo shoot, and Barber prepped him with a simple breakfast of coffee, bread and butter. Barber takes particular pride in his butter, since it's made on-site with cream from Blue Hill Farm—the dairy in Western Massachusetts that gives Barber’s restaurants their name. Ducasse ate his toast, and Barber found himself wondering whether the man he calls the best chef of his generation had enjoyed it. So he asked, and then his heart sank. Ducasse said nothing. Oh no, thought Barber, this hero chef doesn't like my butter. Or perhaps he thinks it's fine, but nothing special.
“Has it rained recently?” Ducasse finally asked in French. "The butter tastes washed out," he said to a fairly stunned Barber. Not only had it rained at the farm, but Western Massachusettes had lately been hit by torrential storms. Rain can lower the quality of grass in way that, theoretically, translates to less flavorful milk from grazing cows. But Barber thought the difference in finished butter would be undetectable. Ducasse continued: “Did you make this butter in a Cuisinart?” Aha, thought Barber, Ducasse’s palate was failing him—Blue Hill made its butter by hand. And then Ducasse asked if the cows had grazed far away from a barn. Nope, Barber's cows always grazed in the lush field right beside the barn. Looking a bit puzzled, Ducasse went on his way to the photo shoot.