Growing up, we used margarine and called it butter. We made butter cookies with margarine. We buttered our bread with margarine. When our chins reflected the yellow of buttercups, we pronounced ourselves butter lovers, but really meant margarine, the only butter we’d ever known.
I vividly remember discovering real butter.
One evening our parents took us to The Hearthstone, a lakeside restaurant that passed for luxury dining in 1960’s Bremerton. After the menus, our waitress brought out butter and bread sticks. I took a bread stick and idly scraped it through the butter dish. I expected margarine. Instead, my mouth filled with the flavor of fresh creamery butter. It was love at first taste.
I asked Mother to buy butter instead of margarine. She said no. Perhaps to soften the blow, she described how much better modern margarine was than the white stuff she ate growing up. One of Mother’s childhood chores was kneading the family margarine with yellow dye to make it look like butter.
Last week, I asked Mother why she hadn’t used real butter when we were kids. She said margarine was healthier. Then she said it was cheaper. Then she said it was because that’s what people did in the 1950s and 60s; they used margarine, not butter. She concluded, “You always want to know why. I don’t know why I bought margarine. I just did.” Can’t argue with that!
I haven’t had margarine since I left home and recommend against using it. I cook primarily with olive oil, but when I want butter flavor, only actual butter will do. I’d never much thought about differences between butters until I encountered Vermont Creamery’s (VC’s) Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals two years ago.
I impulse-bought VC’s Sea Salt Butter because I liked the cute little basket it came in (yes, I’m that shallow) and because I love trying new-to-me ingredients. When we tried VC’s butter, I was instantly hooked. Fresh sweet butter, interspersed with bursting salt crystals, gave new meaning to butter’s goodness. Unfortunately, at that time, VC’s Sea Salt Butter was only sporadically available in Anchorage.
Over the past year, VC products have been popping up all over town. Fred Meyer carries VC Sea Salt and Unsalted Butters, Fresh Goat Cheese, Mascarpone, and Crème Fraîche. Fromagio’s has VC Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Bijou, aged goat cheeses. Carrs carries VC Fresh Goat Cheese.
Vermont Creamery recently gave me a box of its products to try. To maintain objectivity (and avoid being influenced by VC’s gift), I decided to do a blind tasting of all fresh goat cheeses I could find in Anchorage. We tasted: Woolwich Dairy Chevrai Original Fresh Unripened Goat Cheese, Montchevre Chevre Fresh Goat Cheese, Boar’s Head Goat Cheese, Vermont Creamery Classic Chevre, Kirkland Fresh & Creamy Goat Cheese, Margaux de Chevre Plain Fresh Goat Cheese, Laura Chenel’s Original Creamy Goat Cheese, and Courturier Original Fresh Goat Cheese. All cheeses had roughly the same expiration date and were brought to room temperature for serving.
For the blind tasting, all cheeses were unwrapped, cut into similar shaped pieces, and identified with only a number. Tasters ate the cheese plain and then on a cracker, and could retaste cheeses at will. Vermont Creamery and Boar’s Head fresh goat cheeses tied for first place, with Laura Chenel coming in third.
We did a second blind tasting with a larger group of people, using only Vermont Creamery, Boar’s Head, Laura Chenel, and Kirkland brands. Vermont Creamery was the winner by one vote, with Boar’s Head right behind. The major taste difference between the two top cheeses: Boar’s Head is saltier than Vermont Creamery. Both had balanced tang, creamy texture, and lovely aromas.
We also tasted VC’s aged goat cheeses: Cremont, Bonne Bouche, Coupole, and Bijou. Ash-ripened Bonne Bouche was our runaway favorite, but there wasn’t a bad cheese in the bunch. All were delicious.
In addition to eating cheeses, I successfully cooked with VC’s fresh goat cheese, mascarpone, and crème fraîche. The best recipe I created using VC products was Grilled Grape Leaves Stuffed with Herbed Goat Cheese.