As most readers of this blog will know, butter is a great friend of the eat. live. travel. write. household. We would rather eat less of a better quality product, than relegate ourselves to eating petroleum byproducts. So when I was in Florida at Food Blog Forum last week, Mr Neil was delighted to be given the opportunity to attend the media launch for Stirling Creamery’s new Artisanal Butter Collection at Ruby Watch Co. restaurant. Take it away Mr Neil:
We were greeted upon entry by a “Stirling Stirrup”. Now I will admit my eyebrow raised more than a few millimeters at the thought of a butter-inspired cocktail, but this worked. And looking at the ingredient list, I’d say it almost classifies as a healthy drink. The burnt sugar and butter rim was a nice touch.
Drink in hand, I made my way in short order to the BUTTER TRAY. No cheese to be found, but four of the six new butters were on display. I tried them naked, as well as with baguette. As Stirling’s Director of Sales & Marketing, Greg Nogler, graciously guided us: “slather it on – no need to go easy”. I obeyed.
Stirling European Style Butter (aka 84). Divine. This is what butter is supposed to taste like. And, in fact, does in Europe, as the name suggests. While regular butters in Canada are 80% MF, the bump up to 84% is substantial. That four per cent may not sound like much – but it’s a resultant 20% reduction in moisture. You can taste the rich creaminess immediately, with a rounded mouthfeel. I imagine this will make a world of difference to baking (croissants, anyone) – but I would be happy to just chomp down with some nice fresh bread. As you’d expect me to do, I compared it to a wine: in this case, a nice Burgundian Chardonnay.
Stirling Whey Butter. Made from whey cream (left over from cheese-making) that’s churned into butter. If the 84 was rich, this one might classify as being a member of the 1%. Super creamy, with an added nuttiness. It most definitely seemed the favourite of the evening. It reminded me of a Marsanne; white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Stirling Salted Butter. Don’t think of your usual run-of-the-mill salted butter here. While the salt is fine and well-immersed (unlike, say, a Normandy butter), it’s definitely pronounced. To be honest it caught me off guard at first, after the others. I reckon the salt content may be slightly more than regular salted butters – so try first before using in dishes. This for me was comparable to a Fino Sherry, brine and all.
Stirling Goat’s Milk Butter. This winter, Mr. Neil has suffered (enjoyed) a slight Goat Brie addiction. This butter might just elevate that to a new level. White as ivory, this unsalted butter is actually more subtle than one might imagine. (Though apparently it can be “aged” in the fridge – like a cheese – for a fortnight, and the flavours will be more pronounced.) I loved it, and while a few were wondering on the application, the thought of a gorgeous open-face grilled cheese on rye came to mind. Classic Champagne.
Master Butter Maker Chet Blair explained how Stirling makes this butter, and the differences in dealing with each versus large-scale industrial operations. A few of us even had a go at churning our own! No prize for correctly guessing that Mr. Neil was in there in a flash. Chet proudly let me know I had the record for fastest butter churning – under four minutes. I was so proud, I asked the kitchen for a container to bring my prize home. I so desperately want to get my hands on one of those churners…
We didn’t stop at the butters on their own. Under Lynn’s guidance, Chef Lora Kirk and her crew presented a savoury/sweet menu, with each butter the star of two dishes. I won’t regale on each – but let’s just say, not one failed. The beet tartar (Goat), poached prawns (Whey) and maple butter blondie (84 Reserve) were standouts.
This was an entertaining – and educational – event. My thanks to Mary Luz at Sizzling Communications for extending the invite to me as a “stand in” for Mardi, and also to the gracious staff at Ruby Watch Co.
(and now back to your regularly scheduled programming i.e. Mardi)
So Neil lugged these 6 pounds of butter home on the streetcar on a hot March night (doesn’t quite have the ring that”hot summer’s night” does, huh?) and I wondered what on earth we would do with them. Of course, apart from slathering said butter on toast… I am not a huge butter fan here – I mean I eat it but it would be rare that I eat a buttered baguette with nothing else on it. When I am in France, I eat buttered baguette all the time. I love the butter there so much. It’s probably just as well the butter here does not compare. Errrr… until now.
I knew I had to do some sort of taste test so I figured that “Nan MacKenzie’s shortbread” was as good a place to start as any. The fact that there is no Nan MacKenzie in my family is neither here nor there – all I knew is that’s the recipe my mum used to make and it is awesome. No better way to showcase a good butter, right? I divided the batch into 1/3 measures and made one lot with the Stirling 84, one with President’s Choice Normandy-style butter and one with the regular butter we have on hand – GayLea Salted.
- 250g salted butter at room temperature
- 125g caster sugar
- 325g all-purpose flour
- Pre-heat oven to 300˚F.
- Using a hand-held electric beater, cream the butter and sugar until light in colour and very creamy.
- Add the flour, slowly, mixing well after each addition.
- Once all the flour is incorporated, knead until you have a solid mass of dough.
- Divide mixture into four pieces.
- Roll each piece out and form a circle or use a shortbread mould to create four discs.
- Prick with a fork and if you like, sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake on parchment covered baking trays for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. The shortbread should still feel a little spongey but fairly firm to touch.
“It was difficult for me to discern a major difference between them so I’m a bit of a disappointing taste tester for this particular product. All had a good light, crumbly shortbread feel in the mouth. #2 felt the densest and my first impression of #1 was it was the driest/lightest texture. #1 also smelt the most buttery/Christmasy. And I think #3 was the sweetest. #2 had a yummy buttery flavour. But again, I really had a hard time telling them apart after taking a bite of each and then a bite again. All yummy.”
Our neighbour Orest thought that #3 was the best texture and flavour, claiming #1 was the driest and #2 didn’t have enough butter flavour. Neil was completely the opposite, claiming that #1 was the best overall flavour and flaky texture and that #3 was just bland. A couple of others are in possession of this shortbread right now and I hope they weigh in with their opinions in the comments!
In fact, #1 was the Stirling 84 and actually the most difficult to work with – so so buttery (definitely the best tasting by itself!), it made the dough so sticky to work with. The easiest butter to work with in dough form was the “cheapie” (our regular butter that I use in everything I bake) but the raw dough (yes I had to taste that as well – research!) was definitely the least tasty (I could have just eaten the Stirling 84 dough without even cooking it – yes mum, I am SO your daughter!). I personally thought the Stirling was the tastiest, though the Normandy-style was hot on its heels… The GayLea didn’t even compare. I’m not sure I would use the 84 again for baking – it’s just too good on its own – but would definitely consider the Stirling Salted for baking (shortbread, croissants…). What this experiment did prove is that quality counts in simple recipes which allow the ingredients to shine through. Stirling will be on my shopping list again for sure.
And since you CAN have too much shortbread, what did I do with the rest?
Disclosure: Neil attended the Stirling Creamery event as a guest of Sizzling Communications. We were provided with butter samples courtesy Stirling and Sizzling Communications. We were not otherwise compensated for writing this post and all opinions are 100% our own.