Until I tried French butter I thought butter existed only to melt on bread, drizzle over popcorn, or massage into pastries and sweet things. I was never a straight butter eater, nor have I ever slathered a ham sandwich with it, and I even eschew it while cooking for my much-preferred olive oil. Little did I know that it could actually be something worthy enough to star on its own, or licked straight from a knife tip into a parade of four simultaneous salty and creamy experiences one after the other in a period of five seconds on the tongue.
There’s a reason French do butter better – the biggest being that their cream is cultured prior to churning giving it a slightly tart underlying funk similar to that which makes crème fraiche tower over sour cream in the taste department. They also feed their cows very well, especially in the Normandy area where farm cow milk is known for its very high butterfat content.
And only a people known for their love of stinky, rich and decadent foods would elevate the status of a mere fat such as butter to a perfectly good food item in its most bare form.
I first ran into a description of French butter’s charm while reading a recipe in which Dorie Greenspan was describing a special sandwich she used to make for her husband every year. The sandwich consisted of a slab of cold French butter, seasonal black truffles and salt between two slices of soft white bread – the simplicity of which had my mouth smarting dangerously along with a hunger for this odd French butter. The sandwich was like a Hemingway novel – concise, easy, made up of three plain parts but together, a masterpiece.
Then I heard someone talk about how cold butter goes well with radishes.
The idea of pushing a smudge of cold and perfect butter on icy cool radishes like some Tolstoy heroine might do with good vodka late at night was highly appealing to me. It not only titillated my literary heart with its pure elegance and over the top regality but it gave me an excuse to ask the Cute Gardener to dig up the three bulbous French breakfast radishes currently growing in the garden as a precursor to a meal.
I stumbled upon some French butter at the Cheese Store of Silverlake and snapped it up for a whopping eight bucks. I trimmed the radishes and then sliced them into ¾ inch coins and then placed them in a bowl of ice water while the butter softened on the counter. When it was ready, I dried the radishes and dusted them with sea salt. Then we went about eating them with the butter and I learned that French butter is miles above the norm.