Despite the fancy gold packaging with its elegant flowing script, despite the cute, raised imprint of a cow atop its bright McLaren Yellow disc, and despite the unabashed praise from Los Angeles’ finest chefs calling it the best butter available in America, Buerre de Barrate from Rudolphe Le Meunier is not a solution.
No, this non-violently churned, fermented cream French butter from Normandy, as delicious as it tastes, is a problem.
"This butter is dangerous," says novelist Ruth Reichl, who is staying at the house I live in and is perhaps best known as the wife of former CBS News producer Michael Singer. "With a loaf of bread, I could go through all of this butter."
As Ruth, a former newspaper restaurant critic, goes on - she likes the unsalted more - and on about my butter, -I'm thinking "Great. I finally get this exclusive butter and Nancy has to have a butterholic move in. I'll probably end up having to stash this stuff in the crisper, under some celery.”
The Buerre de Baratte from Rudolphe Le Meunier came to me from the generous Josiah Citrin, chef owner of the Michelin two-star Melisse in Santa Monica. His chef de cuisine, Ken Takayama, had told me they were now using this butter, so I emailed Josiah who promptly sent me three 250 gram discs, two of them salted.
"This is the best butter in America," Citrin said. “It has a funky umami flavor. We glaze fish and lobster with it as well as bake scallops with it. We also use it soft to brush on meats and fish before serving. The salted is for bread.”
(Note: Repeated efforts to find out what “umami flavor” actually is were unsuccessful>)
“It’s the same butter as Walter is using,” Josiah says.
Walter is Walter Manske of Republique who first told me about this butter in December. My boy Walt can talk. He started in on the Buerre de Baratte and I thought I might be here a while. Did I put enough in the La Brea Avenue parking meter? But, then, suddenly, he handed me four golfball-sized, plastic-wrapped salted butters. With his wife Margarita's baguette, it was the combo.
The day before the butter arrived, Nancy, lunching at Connie and Ted’s, asked chef Michael Cimarusti, who owns the Michelin two-star Providence, about the butter. He raved, too.
“It tastes like butter is supposed to taste like,” Cimarusti says. “You know he won the MOF.”
“He” is this French cheesemonger Rudolph (aka Rudy) Le Meunier and the “MOF” is the coveted - and nearly impossible to pronounce – Un Des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France – an award given out every four years to the best craftsmen in France. (For the record, that Ruth lady pronounces it flawlessly and, I may add, rather smugly, though she does have a terrifically infectious smile when she says it.) Rudy, who won the MOF in 2007, doesn’t actually make the butter, but, as an affineur, gets the goods from farmers in Normandy, the seat of butter power.
Alex Brown, the general manager and cheesemonger for Gourmet Imports in Alhambra who brings in the goods, likens Rudy to the guy who goes to the farm and selects the best peaches. Brown said that Ludo Lefebvre also get the butter for Trois Mec.
Last Saturday, while I'm in Watts writing a story about a gang battlefield turned park, (http://krikorianwrites.com/blog/2014/1/25/the-wonderful-transformation-of-kartoons-battlefield) Nancy calls to tell me the butter has arrived via Fed-Ed. The next morning we - Silverton, Singer, Reichl and myself - try the butter, plain and salted, straight and on a toasted La Brea Bakery batard. Singer says “umm, it’s really great.”. Reichl makes the now-infamous “this butter is dangerous” comment.
But, it’s Nancy who gives it the highest honor, She takes a bite, and slowly nods five times, There’s joy among the cows of Normandy. There’s jubilation at the Rudolph Le Menuier household. The MOF committee feels justified. Nancy Silverton has just awarded the butter Five Nods. (Silverton last gave “Five Nods” to the Salty Peanut Butter gelato at Pizzeria Mozza Newport Beach.)
Me, I just eat the butter. And eat some more. I’m content.
Unfortunately, this report is not all positive.
The feeling of contentment does not reign throughout Nancy’s kitchen. Soon, dissent prevails. It’s my fault. Perhaps foolishly, but dutifully, I ask some other butters in the kitchen their thoughts.
Donald "Four Sticks” Challenge, a butter from a Los Angeles family which dates back to 1911, said when it comes to choosing a butter, priorities matter.
"Yes Baratte is an excellent butter, but very expensive,” said Four Sticks, taking a moment to size up a nearby English Muffin. “Booooy, I could smoother her. You feel me? Where were we? Oh, yeah. Rudy's butter. Thing is, do you want an excellent butter or do you want a good butter and be able to afford an education for your children? Me, I'm a good, solid butter, Will I get work in Alsace at "L’Auberge de L'iIl? Probably not. But, if you want to send your kids to a good college and have a good butter as well, I'm your guy.
Other butters were not so diplomatic.
"This goddamn French butter comes to Nancy's frig and it's like Bastille Day with Charles of Gaulle as the Grandmaster," said a bitter tube of Vermont Butter. "I'm mean Jesus Christ, Nancy Silverton and Ruth Reichl are acting like Escoffier himself is coming to dinner. The gang reporter actin’ like he just discovered uranium or sum shit. Look, I've won several awards for American butter, but did anybody even notice me. No."
But, what really infuriated the other butters in Nancy’s kitchen was the care I took in rewrapping Le Meunier. In an effort to keep refrigerator odors, which will leach onto a butter like Richard Sherman onto Michael Crabtree, I rewrapped the Baratte, then put the disc in a large zip-lock bag which I personally sucked sealed.
"Nobody even considered our exposure to the elements in the ice box, " said Plugra, who calls himself “European Style”. "I’m left out here with pea shoots and leftover pork meat pizza and Zeus knows what else. Meanwhile, the Highfalutin “cultured” butter from fancy France is wrapped up, no, swathed up like he’s the infant Jesus. And what’s with the label “cultured” butter? Like he knows Caravaggio? Culture this.”
Check Krikorian on Twitter - @makmak47
Buerre de Baratte from Rudolph La Meunier, which costs roughly $18-$20 a pound, is usually available at Nicole’s Marktet in South Pasadena, http://www.nicolesgourmetfoods.com/, DTLA Cheese in the Grand Central Market http://www.dtlacheese.com/ and Urban Radish in the Arts District downtown http://www.urban-radish.com/ On the East Coast, Formaggio Kitchen often carries this butter. http://www.formaggiokitchen.com/
Gourmet Imports is in Alhambra (626) 570-6900 http://www.gourmetimports.com
For more info about Rudy, check www.rodolphelemeunier.com
IF you understand French, check our boy out talking, I think, about butter on You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75uJKbGM6IM
This report is about butter that is “available” in America. Diane St. Clair in Orwell, Vermont makes some desirable butter at her Animal Farm, but it all goes to Thomas Keller for his French Laundry and Per Se, Barbara Lynch in Boston at No. 9 Park and Patrick O’Connell at the Inn at Little Washington.
Pim Techamuanvivt of the popular blog "Chez Pim" makes superb butter for Manresa in Los Gatos where David Kinch rules.
The Ferrari (or McLaren), of French butter is Bordier, but it is not available in America as it uses unpasteurized cream.
In “cultured” butter, the cream is first inoculated with micro-organisms that convert the sugars in the milk to lactic acid, then it’s churned.
TWO memorable butter quotes:
"Beurre beurre, donnez-moi du beurre, toujours du beurre" This is a famous saying of Fernand Point which means "Butter butter, give me butter, always butter."
"I alwasy give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it i the oven." -Julia Child.
Though I don't know if there's an actual quote, I know that butter plays a pivotal role in a key scene of the Marlon Brando movie "Last Tango in Paris".
For the NIGHT FINAL
As of press time, Buerre de Baratte from Rudolph Le Meunier is being held in protective custody in the closed lid section of Nancy Silverton’s refrigerator. A bodyguard, a tub of lard from Culiacan, Sinaloa, has been hired to protect the French butter from its American counterparts.