Got Milk? That’s All You Need.
“Avec du lait, rien que du lait, on obtient de la crème… Et par barrattage, lavage et mélange, du beurre.”
From milk, nothing but milk, we get cream. And then by churning, washing and kneading, we get butter. These words are written large and clear on the back wall of Jean-Yves Bordier’s Maison du Beurre, a bright, impeccably organized, intimate cheese and butter shop cum museum in Saint-Malo, France. Passionate foodies are known to bring back suitcases filled with local products from their travels, even making pilgrimages to certain areas of the world to do so. I made mine to France’s Brittany region for that simple byproduct of milk: butter. All good things in Brittany are made with butter. The very best are made with Beurre Bordier.
I have had Bordier’s butter countless times over the years at various friends’ homes, in restaurants in cities throughout France and from the markets in Paris, but to actually go to the source, to see the large sculpted mounds of butter with my very own eyes, to tempt fate that I might even meet the master fromager himself, or to simply quiz any of the friendly people working in his shop, this was on my wish list for quite some time. And so, on one gray, very rainy and abnormally chilly September morning, I found myself on the cobblestone streets of Saint-Malo, inside the walls of its charming old town, headed directly for this butter Mecca.
You can spend at least an hour reading the large panels in the back of the tiny shop, tracing the history of butter, explaining the process of how it is made, factory versus artisanal methods, and teaching you all there is to know about butter and the steps Jean-Yves Bordier took to get to where he is today. You’ll leave knowing that butter was first looked down upon in 6000 B.C. as “la graisse des barbares,” the choice of fat by barbarians. Only in the 15th century did it evolve from a poor man’s product to one used by aristocrats. Eventually it was to be picked up by pastry chefs in the 16th and 17th centuries, changing its uses and reputation forever.
You’ll be able to explain just why Bordier’s butter is superior to mass produced butter. For one, he selects the very finest quality organic milk from cows that graze upon the fields of Normandy and Brittany. It is later churned and set to rest to develop flavors for a total of 72 hours. Industrial butter does all that in just 6. You’ll be ready for Trivial Pursuit too, should you be asked how many liters of milk produce just 1 kilogram of butter. That would be 22.
But most of all, you’ll leave with your hands full, as it is nearly impossible to resist the attractive array of products related to the world of butter – wooden moulds (I got a few of those), paddles and stamps (yup, got those too), his beautiful cheeses… and the butter. Four mounds of butter, about a foot tall each, are the first thing you see upon entering. Many a passerby has mistaken them for cheese. A woman behind the glass counter with her head down, moves in fast and precise movements, breaking off a chunk of one of the butters with a wooden paddle, plops it on the scale, perhaps needing to add or take off only a meager sliver, and then massages and shapes it effortlessly into a perfect block, ready to slip into its wax paper covering and be sold to loyal customers like me.
I had a lively conversation with the butter lady and she gave me plenty of advice for ways to use each type. Beurre Demi-sel is butter salted with a maximum percentage of 2.9% salt (over 3% would be classified as beurre salé or salted butter). It’s simply the Bordier classic. For everything really. Beurre au Sel Fumé is made with salt that is smoked using a combination of spices, including pepper, onion and curry. Best on white meats, steamed vegetables and potatoes. The most talked about of the butters, one that customers might mistake for herb butter by appearance, is actually made with seaweed. This one may sound strange, but is a delicious eye-opener when served with an array of fish or seafood dishes.
I then placed my order for several small packages of the demi-sel – one for the fridge, 2 for friends and the rest to go in my (sadly miniscule European) freezer for later use. A few of the fumé and a couple of the algae as well. Wrapped in isotherm paper for the trip back to Zürich, and I was done. But what about the beurre doux (unsalted/sweet butter), which we both had ignored. I glanced over to it, and in a joking manner asked, what’s that for? She giggled knowingly and affirmed, “We do not eat that here (in Brittany). We sell that to the Parisians.” This was a real ‘when in Rome’ moment. When in Brittany, eat salted butter! And do as Bordier would advise you to: place a pat on your bread, but by all means, don’t spread!
www.lebeurrebordier.comPrice List: Beurre demi sel: 11.20 Euros/kilogram Beurre doux: 11.20 Euros/kilogram Beurre au sel fume: 15.60 Euros/kilogram Beurre aux algues: 5.60 Euros/kilogram