For Bon Appetit, by Christine Muhlke.
Not long ago, after a trip to Paris, I set up a butter tasting for a man with a very sophisticated palate. (Because that’s what you do, right?) Alongside the Bordier and the Beillevaire and a slab from Normandy that I’d cadged from the chef at Papillon, I snuck in a ringer. Something I’d just bought in New Jersey for $4.99. A butter that took second place, after Bordier.
Reader, it was from Trader Joe’s.
Granted, TJ’s imports its cultured salted butter from Brittany. But, having also done a tasting of American artisanal butters (Yes, I’m accepting applications for new best friends), I can say with full-fat authority that even the best American butter — that would still be Vermont Creamery — can’t compare to even the supermarket French stuff.
Perhaps it’s the quality of the French cultures that are added to the cream that unleash its deep potential. Maybe it’s the fact that the country’s year-round rain and more temperate climate makes for better grass, and, therefore, richer cream. Or, I dunno, maybe it’s because the French have centuries more experience, and they really care.
So this Trader Jacque’s cultured salted butter: It’s what you want slathered on your toast, melting on your veg, smeared across the tip of a breakfast radish. Anywhere you want to taste that profound, slightly tangy flavor with just the right amount of salt. (Sometimes you get a little flake — that’s fun.) Right now, at my house, it’s getting melted to pour over springy steamed asparagus and to fill a ramekin for artichoke dipping. And you know what’s even better than Nutella buttercream frosting for a birthday cake? Fancy (yet weirdly affordable, in true TJ’s style) French butter Nutella buttercream frosting. One day, when I muster the courage to try to be Claire Saffitz, I will use it to make — God help me — kouign-amann, Brittany’s most deadly/delicious pastry.
How TJ’s continues to divine Americans’ next collective craving before they know it is beyond me. On my last visit, I was like, coffee flour? Coffee MOCHI?! Get out of my head! As I was stocking up on their cultured French butter, bypassing the gold bars that were my baking go-to for years, a new package caught my eye: water-buffalo butter from the Himalayas. All I can say is: Stay tuned.
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