European Butter is the Best

Chef’s Roll is excited to announce an ongoing partnership with Butter of Europe, a consortium of several of France’s finest butter makers. We’ve gotten to use their products firsthand and can attest to their incredible quality. Through this partnership, we’ll be putting butters from France into the hands of chefs around the United States, making videos, recipes, and hosting a national contest. Read more here about why European Butter – and specifically French Butter – is truly the best in the world.

Written by Beverly Stephen 

 Its artisanal appeal, deep flavor and versatility makes it the gastronomic winner.

Everything tastes better with butter. The richer the butter, the better.

“With enough butter anything is good,” Julia Child famously said.

And nothing can compare to European butter. Is it different than American butter? Yes. It has a higher butterfat content than American butter—82% vs 80%.  The amount of difference sounds small but it is believed to be enough to account for the difference in flavor and texture. More fat, more flavor.  That’s why so many chefs rely on European butter to bring out the best in their dishes.

There is a centuries old tradition of making butter in Europe. A longer churning time results in the higher butterfat. Cultures (similar to those in yogurt) are also added which gives it a slightly tangy taste. The same savoir faire that informs the finest wines and cheeses and even the innate ability to tie a scarf fashionably and effortlessly comes through in the butters.

It’s not surprising that there are now some American brands trying to produce their own butters with higher fat contents. While some are very good, they still can’t capture the terroir – geographical indications simply cannot be reproduced. The taste of butter comes from the flavor and quality of the milk which “varies according to the breed of cow from which it is obtained, the diet on which the cows are reared or the pastures where they graze,” according to Larousse Gastronomique. There’s even a seasonal variation. Summer butter is a deeper yellow hue because the cows graze on fresh grass whereas in the winter they are fed predominantly hay. The yellow color of butter comes from the natural pigment carotene which is a source of vitamin A which helps vision and growth and helps fight infections. Butter is also a source of Vitamin D which is essential for binding calcium to the bones.

There would be no pastry without butter. Croissants and the traditional Breton treat kouign-amann rely on laminated pastry—multiple thin layers of dough brushed with butter. A flakier pie crust is achieved with European butter. Cakes, pies, and cookies made with European butter will have a fuller flavor. In general, European butter tends to be preferred for baking because it has less water.

Baking authority and cookbook author Dorrie Greenspan reported in the New York Times that Pierre Hermé, the renowned Paris pâtissier, uses French butter for the brioche, croissants and puff pastry he created for a major US supermarket chain, because, he said, American butter doesn’t ”have the acid that helps tenderize dough.”

But pastry chefs don’t have a monopoly on butter.

Savory gastronomy also benefits from butter’s burst of flavor. And chefs are not deterred by fear of fat. “It’s the first and last thing in the pan,” the late Anthony Bourdain told Oprah Winfrey in a television interview, shocking her audience with the amount of butter used in restaurants. The secret of the late chef Joel Robuchon’s signature mashed potatoes was an astonishing one half-pound of butter to every two pounds of potatoes.  (recipe in The Complete Robuchon page 623 Knopf 2009)

Michel Roux writes in Sauces  “I use butter in many of my sauces, but always in moderation. It adds an important finishing touch to so many classics. The delicate and different complexities of butter vary according to its provenance and origins but unsalted in my preferred choice for cooking. Unsalted  butter is essential for making clarified butter and desirable for all sauces in my opinion.” (page  10)

“At the French Laundry, we use an awful lot of butter without serving a lot of butter because of our reliance on the substance called beurre monté. We cook in it, rest meats in it, make sauces with it. It’s an extraordinary vehicle for both heat and flavor,“ Thomas Keller wrote in “The French Laundry Cookbook” (page 135). He went on to explain that beurre monté is a few drops of water and chunks of butter whisked over a moderate heat to melt the butter and keep it emulsified, in one piece and creamy. “We use beurre monté in many different ways and for different reasons. Poaching lobster in it is one of its primary uses. Its flesh impregnated with the flavor of butter, this lobster reminds me of Maine lobster that you eat with drawn butter, and for me that’s what lobster is all about.”

“We also use beurre monté to baste meats…When we sauté beef or venison or a saddle of lamb we typically finish cooking in the oven,” Keller writes. “But before we do that, we drain the fat out of the pan and ladle a little beurre monté over the meat. This helps to keep the meat moist, enhances the flavor and also improves the cooking because the even layer of fat—the beurre monté—is a heat conductor…When the meats are done, they come out of the oven and are submerged in beurre monté—it’s the perfect resting medium.”

There is also a technique called monté au beurre, not to be confused with the substance beurre monté. Traditional sauces are monté au beurre. Chunks of cold butter are whisked into sauces to give them richness and a glossy finish.

Countless dishes, especially fish, are sautéed in butter.

A pat of butter enhances the flavor of cooked vegetables such as haricots verts, broccoli, or asparagus.

Compound butters which are first creamed and then incorporated with fines herbes, basil, garlic or almost any herb or spice you can think of add special flavors when they top meats or vegetables.

Beurre noisette, brown butter, adds a nutty flavor to savory dishes such as filet mignon, quail and fish of all kinds.

Clarified butter is great for sautéing without having burned milk solids. Keller notes that they use any leftover beurre monté for clarifying and then sautéing scallops, soft shelled crabs, crêpes, potato chips.

Better Beurre in Action

As you may have noticed, the French, especially, have developed an incredible variety of applications for butter. No wonder they’re so good at making it! Check out this video featuring Master Chef of France, Bernard Guillas, as he cooks with butter from France:

Try These Ideas:

Classic sauces

  • Hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict
  • Bernaise sauce for meats
  • Roux—butter and flour combined. The foundation for the French mother sauces—velouté, tomate, béchamel, espangol—and numerous other sauces and soups
  • Beurre blancThe Complete Robuchon gives the recipe for this simple white butter sauce: butter, minced shallots, dry white wine or white wine vinegar or white wine plus white wine vinegar. Good for poached or grilled freshwater fish. There’s also a beurre rouge, red butter sauce made with red wine.


Pastry Delights

  •  Soufflés
  • Madeleines (French butter cakes)
  • Gougères made with butter rich choux pastry and Gruyère or Comté cheese. Michel Roux notes that “these little gougères are usually offered at the end of a wine tasting in Burgundy wine cellars


French Twists

  • Sole meunière (sauce of brown butter flavored with lemon)
  • Potatoes Lyonnaise (Gruyère cheese, butter and garlic)
  • Potatoes au Gratin (topped with bread crumbs, butter and cheese)
  • Soft scrambled eggs. Michel Roux in “Eggs” advises melting three tablespoons of butter in a shallow pan and pouring the beaten eggs into the melted butter. Once the eggs are scrambled he adds two tablespoons of heavy cream or a little bit of butter and seasons with salt and pepper.
  • Sliced radishes on buttered bread In the April 28, NY Times What to Cook this Week, San Sifton wrote “For dinner on Monday, if the radishes at the market look right, I like the idea of making sandwiches with them, with rich European butter and a sprinkle of salt. Steven Satterfield, the chef at Miller Union in Atlanta, included this very French picnic recipe in his cookbook, “Root to Leaf.”
  • Escargot with persillade (parsley and garlic)butter
  • Jambon beurre— a simple ham sandwich on a baguette spread with butter
  • Trout Grenobloise— a sauce of browned butter, capers, parsley and lemon


Good for any Menu

  •  Caramelized onion dishes such as onion tarts,
  • Garlic bread spread with crushed garlic and butter
  • Soft shell crabs sautéed in butter
  • Bananas with butter and brown sugar
  • Lobster poached in butter (see French Laundry recipe)


Louisiana lagniappe

  • Bananas Foster— butter, brown sugar, rum, banana liqueur, bananas, cinnamon—flambéed (see recipe from Brennans, New Orleans)
  • Louisiana BBQ shrimp (shrimp dripping with butter, garlic and Worcestershire sauce—no barbecuing involved—Mr. B’s Bistro, New Orleans)
  • Trout Amandine (brown butter sauce and almonds—one of the most popular dishes at New Orleans Galatoire’s)