You'd Be So Much Happier If There Were More Kinds of Butter in Your Kitchen
I used to tell myself that one box of salted butter and one box of unsalted butter was all the butter I needed at any one time. That was before I became a staff writer and pro eater at Food & Wine. Now, my fridge is crammed with no fewer than 20 different butters. Granted, they're all for a formal taste test—I normally keep around three to four butters on hand—but still, my days of butter minimalism are definitely over.
RELATED: How to Freeze and Thaw Butter
In my time here, I've conducted countless taste tests. I've eaten nine different packaged stuffings in one sitting to find the best option for holiday meals. I've sampled more than 30 frozen appetizers all in the name of party snacking (a very noble cause, if you ask me). It was high time to turn my deep, undying love of butter into something more scientific. For this test, I picked up various butters from local stores and tried them at room temperature with the same loaf of La Brea Bakery's organic rustic French bread, which has a crisp exterior and chewy, soft center.
Butter has endless nuances and variations. There's salted and unsalted, cultured, different percentages of butterfat, flavored finishing butters, and more, each with its own consistency, flavor profile, and ideal use. After trying nearly two dozen, I narrowed it down to six key butters that deserve a spot on your shelf.
MAKE: Compound Butter
Some are so irresistibly salty and creamy that they beg to be enjoyed unadulterated on a fresh, crusty piece of bread; others are better suited to amping up scrambled eggs or creating silky pasta sauces. All of them deliver the richness and depth of flavor that only butter can—so why limit yourself to just two boxes?
1. Finlandia Salted Butter
Made in—you guessed it—Finland, this salted butter is light yellow in color and very smooth, and it has a nice, balanced flavor—salty, but not too salty. I'd be perfectly happy eating this straight-up on a piece of toast, but I've also used it to make a next-level crisp, savory grilled cheese. (For the record, I'm equally on team mayo and team butter.)
Finlandia Salted Butter, from $4 at finlandiacheese.com
2. Isigny Sainte-Mère Beurre Demi-Sel Gros Grains
This French butter is the ideal middle ground for folks who like their butter on the sweeter side and those who prefer a pronounced salty flavor. It's made with coarse salt grains (the butter sparkles as you cut into it) that provide bursts of salinity in each creamy bite, balancing out the natural sweetness. This is definitely an eating butter—in addition to being wonderful on a baguette, it would also add a luxurious touch to warm, freshly-baked biscuits and dinner rolls, sandwiches, and appetizers where butter really shines.
Isigny Sainte-Mère Beurre Demi-Sel Gros Grain, from $6 at instacart.com
3. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter (Salted and Unsalted)
Several F&W staffers (myself included) use Kerrygold as their go-to, all-purpose butter. The salted version is perfect for spreading on toast, melting over pancakes, and enriching a potato mash, while the unsalted butter can be used to make creamy polenta, chocolate chip cookies, or piecrust. As someone who typically doesn't love eating unsalted butter plain, I found this version particularly pleasant because it still leans savory and isn't very sweet.
Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter Variety Pack - 1 Salted (8 ounce) and 1 Unsalted (8 ounce), $20 at amazon.com
4. Tipperary Pure Irish Butter (Salted)
Another butter I reach for again and again is Tipperary's ultra-creamy Irish butter. It has a subtle, salty flavor that becomes more pronounced as you eat it, and the silky texture is incredible—out of all 20 butters I tried, this one was among the best for spreading right onto bread and enjoying as is.
Tipperary Pure Irish Butter (Salted), from $4 at instacart.com
5. Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter (Salted and Unsalted)
Thanks to the fermentation process after pasteurization (and before churning) in which a bacterial culture is added to the cream, Vermont Creamery's cultured butter packs in big flavor. The sea salt butter was one of my favorites—creamy, with the perfect balance of salt. It's perfect for mashed potatoes; the tanginess reminds me of when my mom used to bolster them with buttermilk when I was growing up. The unsalted version also won me over with its clean flavor. Use it to make a crust for a rustic fruit galette.
Vermont Creamery Unsalted Chef Roll 16oz, $15 at murrayscheese.com
6. Wegmans Truffle Finishing Butter
Truffle butter can be pricey. Truffle finishing butter? Not nearly as much. When I need to boost quick dishes like boxed macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs, I reach for this tub from Wegmans. It's a finishing butter for a reason (i.e., don't eat this plain on bread), but it brings a pleasantly earthy, extra-savory flavor with minimal effort.
Wegmans Truffle Finishing Butter, wegmans.com
Coming in at 82% butterfat, Échiré is produced in teak wood churns, giving the butter a rich hazelnut flavor and a firm yet malleable texture perfect for pastries." —Paige Grandjean, Recipe Developer
Échiré Unsalted Butter, $56 for four 8.8 ounce bars at amazon.com
Minerva Dairy Sea Salt Butter
"One of the advantages of being a Pennsylvania transplant? Amish butter! You can buy enormous rolls of it in Pennsylvania Dutch delis; thankfully, Minerva's is available online. At 85% butterfat, it's richer than most (and, I would argue, better). The taste is very salt-forward, with an acidic tang and sweet, floral notes: excellent for a toasted cheese." —Melanie Hansche, Deputy Editor
Minerva Dairy Sea Salt Butter, $49 for three 1-pound rolls at goldbelly.com
How to Store Butter
On the Counter
If you're going to store your butter on the countertop at room temperature, your best bet is salted butter because salt is a natural preservative. Keep it in a covered dish for three weeks to a month—if your kitchen is unusually warm, move it to the fridge to be safe.
In the Fridge
Your butter can keep in the refrigerator for three months or more. Store it in a dish, in the container it came in, or a wrapper of your choice.
In the Freezer
To freeze your butter, make sure it's well wrapped—whether in plastic wrap or the wrapper it came in—and keep it in there for a year or more. —Margaret Eby