What is European butter? Is it simply unsalted butter?



Shuna L. January 18, 2015
It makes me so so so so happy to see people talking about butter in such an in depth and interested way!

I would beg to differ that the EU standards for butter fat percentages are arcane. The EU is a fairly recent happening, and foods need stricter regulations for labeling, if you ask me. Especially considering butterfat is a commodity, and it's price fluctuates about 100 times per hour. America/USDA is just lazy - although the USA is far more vast than any European country, so maybe they're just busy.

The % of fat on the side of the package is not the actual butterfat content. In the USA manufacturers do not have to list that, so they don't. If you want to know that information, try emailing the company. European butters sometimes print that information, because it justifies the price and separates it from the pack.

Yes, butter is made up of water, fat and "solids." When clarifying butter, aka making ghee, or taking it farther for beurre noisette, aka brown butter, one sees these three distinct parts immediately. The "solids" float to the top, the whey, aka water, sinks to the bottom. For really delicious and rich ghee, one wants a butter with less water. When I make brown butter I have no waste - I whisk while it's cooking and I keep the caramelized crunchy bits that go to the bottom.

Different breeds of cows make very different kinds of milk. Cows are actually very picky eaters, and given their choice of plant to eat, they prefer young shoots of grasses like clover. Because the modern world forces a cow to lactate 365 days a year, milk changes drastically, season to season, depending on what they eat.

Jersey cows make the best dairy. If you ever come across milk or cream or butter made from this breed, buy what you can afford and eat it standing up at the counter and don't share with anyone unless you really really love them. It's exquisite.

The reason that Irish butter is so much better than all American butter, and most European butters, is that Irish cows have incredible, rain-grown grasses, to eat, most all of the year. Plugra used to be made in Europe, but because of a series of political reasons, is not produced in America. It used to be the best butter for pastry making, like lamented doughs, because it was very low in water. I don't believe their butter is worth the price anymore.

Before refrigeration, all butter was salted to make it "keep." Older Americans will remember a time when butter was always off, even salted butter. In Europe, most salted butter tends to be better because the salt they use is better. Some "unsalted" butters will taste salty because the water is salted to keep down lime deposits.

Making butter is as easy as whipping cream - no need to culture it - unless of course that is your preference. DO NOT USED ULTRAPASTEURIZED CREAM to make butter. This dairy has stabilizers added to it and your butter will only taste of its concentration. Also it's very hard to make whipped cream from dairy that's been cooked at such a hot temperature. Buy the very best cream you can afford.

Lastly I will say this:
Buying butter is very expensive at the retail/consumer level. Shop around. When great butter is at a good price I tend to buy a lot and freeze it. Unless you're buying the really fabulous stuff, paying more than $6.50 per pound is highway robbery. Regular butter should hover around $2 - $4#, but it fluctuates often, and with good reason. Cream, for making butter, is at it's best in the summer, when cows are eating what they really want, and lactating closer to the time they should be. I only use the really pricey stuff when butter is the main flavor of what I'm making: pie dough, shortbread, croissants, puff pastry, brioche, Parker House rolls, etc.

In a chocolate cake I would rather spend my money on couverture chocolate, than super high quality butter. But that's me. Now I'm hungry for fresh churned butter from a Jersey cow...
Susan W. January 18, 2015
I am going to read your post more carefully, but I am watching a bad Lifetime movie.

I agree..a butter conversation like this is so awesome. What better ingredient to dive into than butter.

Now, about ghee. It is made from browned butter. It's much different than clarified butter. You should see how dark I let mine get. Right before it burns. I really push the envelope. That is ghee.

Personally, I only buy dairy from grass fed cows. It's becoming more and more available. Organic Valley is a really good one. They have an awesome spring limited edition that is available early may. It's the best butter that I have ever tasted.

Your pricing may work well wherever you live, but it will differ state to state, town to town and even neighborhood to neighborhood.
Maedl January 19, 2015
The EU is not all that recent--it has been around since shortly after the end of WWII in a variety of guises. CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy, was first established in the early 1960s, so that is more than 50 years in which food in the EU has been affected by common rules and regs. Just about anyone I know who is involved in small-scale food production in my region would call the regs arcane--or at least the German translation of the word. CAP reduced huge surpluses of wine, milk, and other foods that were depressing agricultural prices in Europe, but it also drove far too many people to abandon their farms. The food regs are also hurting producers of artisinal foods--especially cheeses and salumi, charcuterie, whatever.

I think the EU standards cut both ways--they define products, like wines, Prosecco, Champagne, but they also make it hard for many traditional producers to cintinue their specialties. Until recently, the regs were also responsible for significant food waste, because produce had to be perfect to go to the market. Misshapen fruit and veg were sent to the dump. This has recently changed, thank goodness. On the other hand, I am the first to look for DOC, etc., on labels, and I see that as a great benefit that EU has contributed.

I looked up the USDA standards for salt in butter and it appears to be 1.6 to 1.7 percent, far lower than what Susan W reports for her butter. I wonder what gives there.

As to the taste of butter, Jersey milk is always exquisite, but I love the butter that comes from my local area in Bavaria in the spring and summer. The cattle, a mixture of breeds, some heritage, some not, graze on the flowers and grasses in mountain pastures. Shortly afer I moved there, I gave up drinking low fat milk and started feasting on the milk, cream, cheeses, butter, and yogurt produced almost on my doorstep. Boy, am I the happy camper!

Voted the Best Reply!

trampledbygeese January 17, 2015
The grocery store here in BC (Canada) sells European Butter which is butter made from cultured cream. It has a slightly sour taste. It comes salted and unsalted.

You can make your own cultured butter by transforming whipping cream into yoghurt (either with a yoghurt maker or with a room temperature milk culture like Fil Mjolk) then churning it as usual. This is very delicious.

Whether or not this is the European Butter referred to in the recipe, I have no idea. Any good quality butter ought to do the trick. Looks like a delicious cake.
ktr January 17, 2015
I know there are European brands of butter but I think the most important thing is just to use a good quality butter. There are so few ingredients in this cake that the quality of the butter will make more of a difference than in most cake recipes.
Sophie L. January 17, 2015
Thank you !
Sophie L. January 17, 2015
In Quebec, we only have 3 kinds:
and Half-salted...
Susan W. January 17, 2015
Sophie, I would go with unsalted and whichever brand you like the best if you have a choice. European butter usually contains higher fat content and less water, so maybe the one that has a higher caloric content per serving. Again, if choices aren't available, just use unsalted butter.
ktr January 17, 2015
Interesting, I had never thought about having different fat and water contents in butter. I wonder how a local or homemade butter would compare.
Susan W. January 17, 2015
I was just at my grocery store that carries a gazillion types and brands of butter. Our local Tillamook has 11g of fat per serving. The Amish butter, Kerrygold butter and the Pulgra European style all had 11 g as well, but Pulgra said it uses a slow churn method which creates less moisture. No difference in fat or calories though, so I was incorrect on that.

I always thought Pulgra was actually from Europe, but it's not. It's from the US.

Ghee (no milk solids or moisture) has 14 g of fat per serving. It's not good for baking though.

A day of learning about butter. :)
Maedl January 18, 2015
Susan W, you were correct--European butter, that is butter made in the European Union, has a higher fat content as defined by the EU regulations, laws, or whatever. I believe that USDA defines butter with a slightly lower percentage of fat. But for a recipe written by someone in the US, I would assume that she means a very high quality butter and is not concerned with arcane EU definitions.
Susan W. January 18, 2015
Maedl, I find it all very interesting. My friend lives in Dublin. She uses Kerrygold salted to make her ghee. I decided to try it. I usually use Kerrygold unsalted. It was sooo salty. We compared labels. Hers was 2% sodium. Mine was 4%.
Maedl January 18, 2015
Butter is usually unsalted in most of the European countries I have visited, so perhaps they use less salt because they are accustomed to no salt in butter and a smaller amount than is used here is sufficient. I think we use more salt and sugar in general in the US than most Europeans do.
Susan W. January 18, 2015
I have a feeling it has to do with USDA regulations, but that's just a guess. I don't always agree with them. The conversation came up because Costco carries Kerrygold at a great price, but they only carry salted. Derval didn't understand why I had a problem with the salted..hence the label comparison. I actually like ghee with a little salt. Now I use half of the KG salted and half KG unsalted that's available everywhere, but expensive.
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