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Browsing the butter section of any grocery store provides you with a number of options for your butter-buying sojourn. You'll likely see the generic store brands - often fetching the lowest price - the mainstream name brand Land O' Lakes, and then the fancy schmancy butters touting phrases like "European style" and "cultured cream" on their labels. But what makes these more expensive butters different than their less expensive siblings, and is it worth it to shell out the dough for the more lavish product?
What Does European Style Butter Mean?
One key difference between American and European butter is the amount of butterfat contained within. American style butter is regulated by the USDA and must contain at least 80% butterfat. European-style butter is churned longer and has a higher butterfat percentage, typically 82% or more. Furthermore, European style butter is often cultured, meaning that the butter is either produced using unpasteurized cream or live cultures are added during the churning process. These extra steps result in a bolder, tangier, and more savory flavor than butters created by only churning pasteurized cream.
Should I Buy More Expensive Butter?
Ask 10 food lovers this question and you'll get 10 different answers. Personally, I think that there is a time and place for both cheap and pricy butter depending on what you're doing with it.
I recommend buying a premium butter when using it in a dish where the butter itself is the star of the show, such as:
- Spread onto rolls, homemade bread, or breakfast toast
- Melted onto a finished steak, hot corn on the cob, fresh steamed or roasted vegetables, or baked/mashed potatoes
- Buttercream frosting
- Butter-centric baked goods and pastries like shortbread cookies, brioche, and croissants
I recommend using a less expensive butter when it will be more "hidden" in a dish, such as:
- Most basic baked items like cookies, brownies, cornbread, and - yup - even cakes and cupcakes
- Melting a bit into a skillet for sauteeing or pan frying
I spent a long time subscribing to the belief that premium butter was always better, but that's not always the case. In fact, many recipes you see online were probably developed and tested using a 'regular' American butter. Swapping it out with a premium butter with less water and a higher butterfat percentage may yield unexpected results.
To sum things up, if you're someone who loves being in the kitchen and using butter (who doesn't?) don't think that you always have to shell out the bucks for the premium stuff to prepare a tasty dish. In my kitchen, I like to spring for the nice stuff if I'm expecting guests or if we're having a special family meal. When developing recipes for the blog or just putting together a weeknight meal, the mainstream brands serve me well.
I love to hear about what you guys are doing in your own kitchens! What brands of butter are your go-to? Do you like to use premium butter? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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