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Butter: A tasting and lesson in its delectable history

We churned through a six-course butter sampling co-hosted by Oh La Vache and Kitchen Lingo Books in Long Beach.

Butter: A tasting and lesson in its delectable history
A six-course butter tasting is hosted at Alder & Sage on May 17. Photo by Matt Miller.

What do you get when a cookbook store owner and the proprietor of Long Beach’s best cheese shop team up to host an event at the trendiest restaurant on Retro Row? A butter tasting, of course.

On May 17, Erika Jones of Oh La Vache and Matt Miller of Kitchen Lingo Books (retail neighbors on Long Beach’s Retro Row) paired up for an exclusive, sold-out event at Alder & Sage to showcase a delectable spread while also enchanting guests with its surprisingly complex history.

Inspired in part by Elaine Khosrova’s 2016 book “Butter: A Rich History,” Miller and Jones united over their shared love of the ubiquitous dairy product.

The event kicked off with a brief introduction from another butter lover, local sommelier and Alder & Sage’s wine sales rep, Jean Philippe Molinari. Molinari provided guests with some insight on the wine they’d be cleansing their palates with between butter courses, Cremant de Savoie — a sparkling, dry white wine from the southeast of France, which Molinari guaranteed would be just as good as champagne, if not better.

After a quick overview from Miller, it was time for Jones to take center stage to provide an education on butter — how it’s made, the various types, and its surprising health benefits. Right on cue, the meticulously prepared trays of butter were promptly distributed. Immediately apparent was the subtle contrast of butter colors, playfully set against a crudités backdrop of shaved radish and cucumber, providing a balanced pop of freshness. At the center of the tableau, thickly sliced, untoasted sourdough bread served as the canvas for the evening’s main event, courtesy of Hey Brother Baker, an Oh La Vache mainstay.

Erika Jones of Oh La Vache and Matt Miller of Kitchen Lingo Books host an exclusive butter tasting at Alder & Sage. Photo by Matt Miller.

Jones’s comments throughout the evening provided some fascinating context on the vast, and often complicated, history of butter. Similar to cheese, the true origin of exactly how or when butter was first created remains a mystery. The earliest known evidence of it dates back to 2500 BCE in Sumaria where the people relied on goats and sheep for their many practical and dietary uses. Leaping forward about 4500 years to the 1950s, we arrive at the point in time when butter first began to get a bad rap.

It was during this time that an American physiologist named Ancel Keys developed a keen interest in diets that might lead to cardiovascular disease. Following a seven-country study (notably none of the dairy-rich, European countries), he presented his findings to the World Health Organization, which made sweeping declarations on the dangers of consuming butter. Many of these claims have since been debunked however, and current diet trends tend to favor whole animal fats over processed vegetable oils.

Jones quips, “There isn’t necessarily a pinpointed moment when butter and fats became de-villainized, but my theory is our modern Industrial Revolution, …the internet boom. Unfortunately, the resurrection of butter is taking much longer than it should, …but hopefully, this class and book helps you guys to spread the butter, I mean the word, about butter.”

Taking Jones’s words to heart, guests excitedly dug into the first of the six offerings, a cultured butter from Vermont Creamery which Jones described as “slightly chewy and salty, …tastes tangy and sweet and a little cheesy.”

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She adds that this is the perfect butter for a jambon-beurre sandwich (try it yourself the next time you pass by Oh La Vache). Following this mild initial entry was an Italian, water buffalo butter from the Delita creamery. Made from the milk of the same cows that produce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, this starkly white butter immediately set itself apart from its predecessor in terms of flavor and texture — decadently creamy and sharply floral from the cow’s grass-heavy diet.

Next up was the first of three butters from France, and according to Jones, one of the most famous butters in the world — D’Isigny, pronounced like Disney, whose family actually hails from this same region. This traditionally made, salted butter from Normandy boasted an enormous punch of flavor — salt-forward at first, but with a minerally and lightly toasted finish.

In the fourth spot, the tasters traveled to Chesire, England where a creamery by the name of Delamere in the town of Knutsford produces a delightfully rich goat butter.

“Now right away you notice the salt, and then as the creamy butter drapes your tongue, you really get that goat flavor, which is often described as grassy, floral and barnyardy,” says Jones.

Saving the best for last, the final two butters in the lineup (both French, of course) produced the biggest reactions from the tasting crowd. Payson Breton, a cow’s milk butter from Brittany, wowed the audience with its prominent salt crystals and concentrated, rustic flavor. Rounding out the tasting was another butter from Normandy, a Beurre du Barrate made by France’s best affineur (French for refiner), Rudolph Le Munier. Affectionately referred to as the “king of butters,” this final entry was robust, decadent, and hypnotic to the palate.

Beyond the dairy-rich centerpieces, the dedication to exquisitely crafted food and the subtle, almost melodic sense of community wafted throughout the evening. Jones and company have certainly tapped into a niche passion, and it has captured the palates of a community eager to devour it.

Keep a close eye on whatever they have coming up, and the next time you’re putting together a charcuterie board, or happen to have a good loaf of bread on hand, do yourself a favor and splurge on a nice butter.

Oh La Vache will host another butter tasting sometime in July. Follow @ohlavachelb on Instagram for updates. They will also hold their monthly Cheese + Wine Pairing class at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 20, and Friday, June 21. Click here to purchase tickets.

The butter mentioned in this article can be purchased in-store at Oh La Vache, 2112 E. 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814.

Kitchen Lingo Books hosts several events throughout the year. Follow @kitchenlingobooks on Instagram for updates.


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