Looking for the hottest trend in American cooking? Think butter. Butter is back in fashion but all dressed up. Most exciting are the European-style cultured butters with more refined flavors. Then there are the salted butters with a wide range of salt levels that range from butter with crunchy crystals to a variety of specialty salts like French sea salt or Himalayan pink.
Once viewed with suspicion and thought to have caused all kinds of maladies, butter is finally returning to its glorious status as one of life’s little luxuries. At one time, it was thought to be a cause of heart disease, triggering millions to switch to margarine upon the advice of their doctors. Among foodies, it is viewed as one of the nastiest fake foods, and it is made from chemicals, flavorings, colorings and deodorizers. Even insects won’t eat it.
My first experience with this food was when I was a young teenager and my father had a serious heat attack. Fortunately, he survived, but the first recommendation from his doctors was to remove all butter from his diet, which meant we became a margarine-only home. It also didn’t hurt that margarine was much cheaper than butter, so the transition was an easy one to swallow.
With fortunes now reversed, the dangers of butter have been proven to be more myth than science. Its only downfall is the calorie load. On the other hand, it is now considered a brain food. With the nightmare of margarine behind us, Americans are now rediscovering the delights of butter.
Butter is now in high demand, and the finest butters are commanding a premium price, but they are worth it. There is now room for more than one variety in the fridge. In addition to commodity butter for everyday use, a good salted butter can add flavor to the simplest dish. Unsalted cultured butters are perfect for baking. Try flavored butters on pasta or a baked potato; they are also a wonderful topping on chicken or fish.
Butter can be hard to find. Since traditionally it has been sold in the dairy case, depending on the store’s overall philosophy, it is often next to other butters and, yes, margarines. However, it is the specialty cheese case that holds the little gems, so don’t overlook the deli/cheese department. Other places to look are local cheesemakers, cheese shops, farm stands and farmers markets.
Once you begin to look, you will find a treasure trove of possibilities. It could very well become your new ice cream, and experimentation will turn into passion and passion into obsession.