From small-batch artisanal local butters to European style, Maine is chockablock with fine butter producers. See which ones are the best.
In Maine local butter is everywhere. At farmer’s markets where dairy vendors offer their butter and from such food stores as Hannaford to Whole Foods quality butter is a mainstay. Local farm butters are the most expensive, averaging about $16 for per pound. My two favorites are from Swallowtail and Balfour dairy farms. These two butters are generally a deep yellow for several reasons: the butter comes from cream produced by cows that graze on pasture and if they’re Jersey Cows, which have the highest fat content, the butter is extra rich with a deep yellow tinge.
Balfour’s butter is made from organic pasteurized cream produced by their herd of Jersey and Normande cows. It’s very lightly salted, which helps preserve the butter, giving it good shelf life. Though unsalted butter is preferred for baking the trend these days is to salt the butter so lightly that it can be used regularly in all baking recipes.
Swallowtail’s butter, made from unpasteurized cream, is an extremely rich butter, also very lightly salted, and a deep yellow. I’ve used it in pie crusts and cakes and have noticed the pronounced butter flavor and richer texture it imparts.
Short of these hand-cranked artisanal butters, there are excellent local butters sold in stores, and I set out on a taste-test journey. My criteria was that they had to be locally derived either from dairies in Maine or Vermont and readily available, sold in traditional stores. Some of the specialty butters have limited distribution, but I included a few of them because they are sold readily in Greater Portland’s food stores like Hannaford, Whole Foods, Rosemont, The Farm Stand and the Portland Food Co-op rather than at farmer’s markets
The five butters, noted in price-per-pound, are:
Cabot’s European style 83 butter ( salted or unsalted), $4.79
Kate’s (unsalted or unsalted), $3.99 to $5.99
Vermont Creamery (unsalted or salted) $6.99 per half pound package
Bisson’s (lightly salted or unsalted) $6 (see Sources)
Maine Country Butter (lightly salted) $5.65
Cabot’s European Style butter is one of my favorites for baking since it’s an extremely rich, high-fat content butter. It has a good, grassy, nutty taste, smooth silky texture and good for all cooking uses. For its pronounced buttery flavor it’s perfect in baked goods and pastry dough as well as rich, complex sauces. It’s also reasonably priced. It’s only available at the Cabot Farm Annex store on Commercial Street. Rosemont’s Munjoy Hill store used to carry it; Whole Foods does not and this would be a good selection for the Portland Food Co-op or The Farm Stand, who says they will start to carry it.
Kate’s butter, made in Old-Orchard Beach, is everywhere in all of our supermarkets and specialty foods stores. Interestingly its price varies depending on where you buy it. It’s about $2 more at Whole Foods than at Hannaford. That said, it’s my least favorite butter. It does have decent flavor, but it breaks down and becomes crumbly the more you handle it. I used it recently for a pie dough and the dough was flat when it’s usually very buttery tasting made with my preferred butters.
Vermont Creamery is the most expensive of the butters, coming in at about $14 per pound. However, it’s a fabulous cultured butter and if I’m making a pound cake, where you want the best butter, this one is a luxurious one to use. In fact I like to mix my butters in baking in preparations that require a pound or more of butter. You can use one log of butter, which is 8 ounces, and mix it with other favorites to reach a pound weight. It’s available salted or unsalted, both of which are good for baking. And as Vermont Creamy states on their packaging, the best use of this butter is to spread it on rustic country bread for the full flavor effect.
Bisson’s is the only butter in the group that’s made from unpasteurized cream. This Topsham butcher and dairy farm is known for their high fat content cream and milk. And the butter is therefore one of the richest in butter fat of the group. They offer it in salted or unsalted versions, the latter, however, has a short shelf life of about 1 week. The very lightly salted version lasts for many weeks well refrigerated. It’s a sensational butter in all uses and I use it all the time in baking, where it lends a rich buttery flavor to pastry dough, cookies, cakes, frosting and complex sauces. Spread on rustic country bread it’s divine.
In the spring and summer months, Rosemont Market carries the butter otherwise it’s available at the butcher shop. Take the trip to Topsham, stock up on it by freezing it for future use.
Maine Country Butter is produced on a small farm in Livermore Hills in operation since 1988. Locally the Portland Whole Foods is the only store that carries it, though the company does distribute in various parts of Maine to small farm stores and natural food stores and seafood markets. It’s a small-batch butter made from the cream derived their own herd of cows and it’s termed “natural.” It’s only available lightly salted. I began using it about a year ago as my principle butter for all cooking and have been very pleased with it. It gives good results to pastry dough and cakes and general cooking.
L& P Bisson’s and Sons, 116 Meadow Rd., Topsham, ME 207-725-7215