Butter has been well and truly reinstated in the kitchen and on the dining table. Jane Ram explores the resurgence.

After years in the gastronomic wilderness where it was relegated as a guilty pleasure at best, butter seems to have been well and truly reinstated in the kitchen and on the dining table. Current dietary wisdom is that butter is actually a good fat conveying special health benefits, whereas many butter substitutes are increasingly questioned as being less than healthy.

Scientific opinion is one thing, but consumers are voting with their wallets. Benjamin Cross, Executive Chef at Ku De Ta, Bali, says, “One of the biggest shifts in the butter trend has been from the consumer. All reputable restaurants have always used quality butter over the years, but the big difference is that now the average consumer appreciates quality more.”

Gregoire Michaud, founder of Hong Kong’s major custom bread and pastry suppliers, recently opened his own retail outlet in Wanchai. He is very firm about using nothing but the best quality butter in his patisserie. “Talking about ‘restoration’ of butter as a good fat sounds to me like butter got wrongly accused of many bad things by the hydrogenated fat industry lobbyists,” he says.

It’s all good

In the foreseeable future, the emphasis will increasingly be on premium butter and the trend is customer-driven, says the spokesperson for Beurre d’Isigny Sainte Mère. “Today’s customers have a better understanding that it is all about quality and quantity. Eat less but eat better (of course if you eat 1kg of butter per week you will be at risk!”)

Over the past three years Elite, the agents for Beurre d’Isigny, which has AOP (protected status as a regional product, report a significant increase in popularity for and understanding of speciality butters including churned, slow maturation, AOP and other products from grass-fed cows.

“Traditional butter is a 100 per cent natural product only using cream from milk and lactic ferments the way it was made centuries ago on small to medium-size farms, mainly in Normandy where cows are grass fed as much as possible,” says the spokesperson.

Pointing to the shortage of butter and price increases in late 2017, Elite predicts that demand will continue to grow as end users increasingly demand a premium product with full traceability. Asian gourmets have learned to appreciate the character of butter in the ever more popular croissants and other patisserie items.

Rising prices

Michaud has long been a crusader for butter and has worked with nothing else for the past 25 years. He says it has never been an option for him to consider using alternatives (apart from the rare need to cater for dairy allergies.

“I really think people used the ‘healthier’ label on hydrogenated fat as an excuse, but in reality it was all about cost saving. For us, it doesn’t change anything in terms of trend and image, but it’s funny to see the large companies riding the wave of ‘100 per cent butter’ label on their products. Butter is not cheap, but if you have been using it forever, it’s not a big change. But if you have been using cheaper alternatives, it’s a double punch effect, with the switch to butter and the price increase.”

“For us, as quality-driven artisans, the hike in the price of butter is a good thing. I don’t see it as a negative factor and focusing on the simple impact of price is narrow minded. Our industry needs farmers. From dairy products to wheat and chicken eggs, etc, we need them to be able to run sustainable operations whilst providing us with quality products such as organic flour, quality butter and free-range eggs. Everything has a price, and better health has a price. By endorsing better products, we endorse the whole supply chain and customers are changing their vision and spending habits by looking at such changes for themselves and their families. Prices have increased, but it is simply a market correction and it is not going to last forever. The industry will have no problem recovering.”

“We use butter from creameries in New Zealand and butter from France. Different baked products require different butter, ranging from regular butter for cooking and mixing dough to butter with higher fatty acid content that allows us to fold dough and make the perfect layers!”

Going Natural

Following a few decades of low fat as one of the leading dietary trends, the last 10 years have been characterised by consumers favouring natural products, says. Mark Boot, Vice President South East Asia for Arla Foods.

“In recent years this trend has led to consumers increasingly allowing butter back into their diets preferring the great taste and naturalness of the product. Arla’s premium butter brand, Lurpak, taps very well into this trend as it is a high-quality product made from simple, natural ingredients creating the good taste that consumers love.”

“In Asia, we see a growing demand for dairy products that are richer in fat, like butter and cream and especially in foodservice. Given this increasing demand we expect a positive sales trend especially for brands with a premium quality.”

High quality butter is hand-churned from premium quality cream and it will never be cheap. The cream is from the milk of cows that graze freely in unpolluted pastures where the grass and other plants are GM and pesticide free. What the cow eats decides the richness and the aroma of the milk. It also affects the food value of the butter in terms of highly prized fatty acids and it determines the texture of the finished butter — hard or soft.

In its natural state churned butter is ideal for quick sautéing as it has a higher burning temperature than commercially processed butters. The rich and complex flavours allied with the higher fat content make churned butter a natural choice for the best quality patisserie. Some chefs in high-end Asian restaurants add a little churned butter when plating cooked food to add a distinct flavour and glossy appearance.

Connoisseurs of butter judge texture, flavour and aroma. The fat content is higher in unsalted butter and the texture is therefore richer than in salted butter which holds more water.