After having been knocked to the back of the dairy case by margarine in the sixties, and buried under a fashionable flood of olive oil in the decades since, butter is back in a big way. With the new zeal for local and sustainable agriculture, and the canny move on the part of once-anonymous dairy farmers to market their own artisanal products, there’s a new generation of butters both sweet (made from fresh pasteurized cream) and cultured (made from fermented creams) to try. Butter’s peak season is approaching (as cows feed on grass, their output’s flavor and color intensify), so it’s time to take stock of the best being made in our own backyard.
Cabot Unsalted Butter
$6.99 per pound at Garden of Eden, 2780 Broadway, nr. 107th St.; 212-222-7300.
A mass-market butter produced by the Cabot Creamery Cooperative in Vermont since 1919. It has a firmer texture than most, with a mildly cheesy, well-balanced flavor.
Vermont Butter & Cheese Cultured Butter With Sea Salt Crystals
$5.99 for six ounces at Murray’s Cheese, 254 Bleecker St., at Cornelia St.; 212-243-3289.
This round of European-style cultured butter (given a lactic tang from fermentation) coated in crunchy sea-salt crystals is the latest award-winning product from a Vermont outfit that buys its milk from local family farms. It has a rich and nutty flavor, with a high (86 percent) fat content, but depending on how the salt is dispersed it can be a little too salty.
Natural by Nature Sweet Cream Whipped Butter
$4.49 per half-pound at Whole Foods, 250 Seventh Ave., nr. W. 24th St.; 212-924-5969.
For whipped butter—which is aerated with nitrogen gas to make it easy to spread—this certified-organic Pennsylvania variety has a good mouthfeel; a mild, nutty flavor; and a pale color resembling crème fraîche.
Evans’ Farmhouse Creamery Unsalted Cultured Butter
$8.99 per pound at Murray’s Cheese, 254 Bleecker St., at Cornelia St.; 212-243-3289; and Saxelby Cheesemongers, 120 Essex St., nr. Delancey St., 212-228-8204.
This five-year-old family-run creamery buys organic milk from four local dairy farms in upstate New York. The unsalted cultured butter has a firm texture, a nice bright color, and pleasantly cheesy overtones.
Kate’s Homemade Butter With Sea Salt
$2.99 per half-pound at Whole Foods.
Churned daily in small batches from fresh pasteurized cream supplied by local dairy farms and free of artificial growth hormones, Maine-made Kate’s has a good creamy texture and well-rounded flavor perfectly balanced with sea salt.
Blue Hill Farmer Butter
Available later this year, if all goes according to plan, at Stone Barns farmers’ market and Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurants.
The Barber brothers, Dan and David, are getting into the dairy business with this lightly cultured, sea-salted organic butter made from contented grass-fed cows at Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires. It’s soft and creamy, with a high fat content and a distinctive grassy flavor.
Ronnybrook Farm Dairy Salted Sweet Cream Butter
$3.50 per half-pound at Union Square Greenmarket, Wed. and Sat., and Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., nr. 16th St.; 212-741-6455.
Famous for its milk, this Ancramdale, New York, dairy farm also makes a freshly churned, 82 percent milk-fat butter with just the right amount of salt.
Eli’s “Secret” Dutchess County Salted Cultured Butter
$18.99 per pound at Eli’s Manhattan, 1411 Third Ave., at 80th St.; 212-717-8100; and Eli’s Vinegar Factory, 431 E. 91st St., nr. First Ave.; 212-987-0885.
Since this stealth upstate farm is under contract to sell its milk to a well-known brand, Eli Zabar markets its butter discreetly under his own label. But don’t be fooled by the generic packaging: It’s top-notch stuff, made in limited quantities from grass-fed cows.