Taste Test of the Week: Organic Valley Pasture Butter

Reader Contribution by Staff
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We’re trying it before you buy it.

Company: Organic Valley
Product: Pasture Butter
Editor’s score: 5/5

Ingredients: pasteurized organic sweet cream, salt, microbial cultures
Price: $3.69 (Search Organic Valley coupons.)
Where to Buy: available at most grocery stores, or find a retailer near you

Why we liked it: rich, smooth, seasonal, high-quality, nutritious, unique, animal-friendly, farmer-friendly

“If you’re afraid of butter, as many people are nowadays, just put in cream!” — Julia Child

Fact: Butter is one of nature’s simplest and most perfect foods. This is something Julia Child knew well — she sang butter’s praises until the end of her life, which turned out to be a not-too-shabby 91 years. And from the looks of it, Organic Valley knows it, too. That brand you likely recognize from the organic section of your grocery store has a fabulous new offering, Pasture Butter, and I give it two big ole thumbs up!

Like all of Organic Valley’s products, Pasture Butter is produced without any harmful and unnecessary pesticides, antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and the animals involved in its production are humanely raised. But that’s not what’s so unique about Pasture Butter, so let’s move on.

Pasture Butter is only produced during the summer (May to September) from the certified organic milk of cows raised on pasture. (You can find out the specifics of the cooperative’s pasture-grazing standards here.) Grass-fed animals have their most abundant buffet of nutritious greens precisely during this time, and that translates into some supremely healthy dairy products.

Ever heard of CLA? The benefits of conjugated linoleic acid have been in the news a lot lately. CLA is a naturally occurring trans fatty acid (this is not the man-made bad guy you’ve also heard so much about) manufactured in the gut of animals that graze. CLA research is new, but early studies have found that it may be a really great cancer-fighter and immune-booster. If milk-producing animals aren’t allowed to graze — as is their wont — their milk simply won’t be high in this nutrient, so you can’t expect to get it from non-pastured dairy products. In fact, grass-fed animal products are the richest natural source of CLA.

CLA is just one of the omega fatty acids that have been found to be richer in grass-fed animals. The potentially important ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids has also been in the news a lot, and Pasture Butter has a naturally occurring, heart-healthy optimal ratio. See the rest of the Nutrition Facts for yourself.

How is Pasture Butter different?

1. REAL FLAVOR. It’s rich, complex, a little nutty, a little grassy, and … well … buttery. Like it should be. Organic Valley produces Pasture Butter in small batches, and churns it longer than standard butter, which has the result of reducing moisture and increasing yummy butterfat. Regular butter is still butter, so it’s usually pretty good and improves the foods you pair it with. But this one can practically stand alone, and if you can resist the urge to snarf it down solo, it’ll make the foods you dress in it simply sing!

Part of the reason this butter is so dang good is that it’s cultured. That’s right, sophisticated. Well, it is a pretty sophisticated butter we’re talking about here, but no, that’s not what I mean. Before being churned, live cultures are added to the cream to ripen it, yielding sweeter and more complex flavors, not to mention making it easier to digest. Allowing cream to ripen — or ferment, or culture, however you want to put it — was once simply the status quo. If you know someone with an antique butter churn who can remember a time before refrigerators, ask them how long they would let fresh cream sit out before making butter with it.

2. AMAZING TEXTURE. It’s creamy, thick, dense, silky-smooth and super-duper-spreadable. Little-known fact: The spreadability of butter is determined by its ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat. If it’s relatively easy to spread, it has more unsaturated (good, healthy) fat and less saturated (bad, artery-clogging) fat. And a 2006 study found that the softer the butter, the more fresh pasture was in the cow’s diet. In fact, cows that eat nothing but grass have the softest butterfat of all.

3. GOOD AS GOLD. The pretty, pretty yellow of Pasture Butter is evidence of its high vitamin and beta-carotene content. Grasses eaten while they are alive are higher in vitamins E, A and beta-carotene than the standard commercial dairy diet, and those nutrients end up in the cream, and thus the butter. (More about that here.) But buyer beware: The pretty, pretty yellow of some nutritionally inferior butters is only evidence of its high food coloring and additive content. Would you like a side of annatto with your butter? Always check the label!

4. RESPECT FOR THE SEASONS. Early summer butter used to command a premium price as compared to the butter you could get the rest of the year. But that was before our food system replaced seasonal and regional variation with homogeneity. Pasture Butter is one of the few food products you’ll find at regular grocery stores these days that even acknowledges Mother Nature in this way. In my opinion, that’s a reason almost as good as flavor to go out and get some Pasture Butter for yourself. (Did you know that meat and dairy are seasonal foods, just like asparagus and tomatoes? Learn more about that in Eat in Sync with the Seasons.)

The butter’s downfalls: Um, does butter have a downfall??? Let’s ask Julia Child.