Destination makes its way through the Brittany countryside and onto the cobblestones of Paris to discover the rich history, and culinary tradition of French butter.
Our journey begins in Nantes, a picturesque city in the west of France. It marries its long history with innovation. From reimagined spaces to culinary traditions finding modern renditions; Nantes is the urban nucleus of Brittany culture.
We were already butter believers when we started the trip— what we wanted to understand is the secret behind French butter that makes it a cut above the rest. To get our answers, we had to start from the beginning of the process; the farms.
French Butter at Its Finest
We headed to Machecoul near Nantes, the home of Bellevaire, a family owned creamerie, cheese maker, and cheese monger.
They first brought us to one of the farms that produces the milk they use for making their artisanal butter.
Arriving at the crack of dawn, we were met by Cyril, who together with his three brothers, runs a terroir. Brittany as a region is home to several PDO (protected designation of origin) areas. PDO products are produced and processed within a certain region— where the environment and local traditions play a vital role in the maintaining the authentic flavors of a product.
As a terroir, Cyril’s farm continues to produce quality milk that is unique to its territory. The rolling grass and temperature makes it a conducive place for grazing, with cows given the chance to roam from March to November. Milking is limited to twice a day, and there is deliberate process both in activities and dietary needs to ensure that cows are calm and happy.
Hot milk collection on its own is unique to France. Adding to that, Bellevaire also sets themselves apart as the only brand using unpasteurized milk in their butter and cream. Now at first, one might think that this doesn’t make much of a difference, neither does the 82% legal fat requirement exacted by law in the country. As it turns out, it does.Bellevaire’s butter is as artisanal as they come, their butter master noted that they’re the last folks to use a wood churner to turn raw cream into butter. The latter is also molded by hand. The result of all these elements, from happy cows, select farms, and keeping traditions alive in the family; is butter so good you eat it off a spoon.
We Can’t Believe It’s Butter
One of our favorite stops is the Jean Yves Bordier Factory, where we first got introduced to the wonderful world of flavored butter. From chocolate chips, berry laced, to yuzu infused flavors, our palates took a tour de beurre. Bordier Butter uses traditional kneading with wood to seal flavors within the butter. It also attributes to its silkiness before other ingredients, including customized levels of salt. We were fascinated to learn that renowned pastry chefs from all over the world order personalized butter from them directly.
During a special culinary workshop with Chef Tugdual Debethune, we learned how butter can enhance and elevate even the simplest of ingredients. French cuisine is known for its impressive use of techniques, but as Chef Tugdual so wittily showed us—it’s really about how you can pair and play with flavors. Butter can be effectively used for this purpose, plus when clarified correctly, can be withstand higher temperatures while cooking and can even be used to replace oil in confit.
Fun Butter Facts from The Lactopole Dairy Museum
- Butter was first used as a natural skin and hair care product in Europe.
- Egyptians used butter as a treatment for eye infections.
- Butter was first used as an ingredient in the 1950s.
- There are different churners throughout the years, but in the end you can make your own butter at home by simply whisking fresh cream as fast as you can. Strain the liquid buttermilk and the yellow globs left is butter.
Francois Robin’s Butter Tips:
Monsieur Francois was one of the amazing experts who took us on this trip through Brittany and Paris. A passionate cheese monger and hunter, Francois taught us how to get the most out of French Butter:
- Butter absorbs flavors, which is why it’s great for cooking or if you want to transfer one flavor to another ingredient.
- Keep your butter tasting fresh! Cover it while in the fridge to maintain its flavor integrity.
- Experiment with flavored butter, Middle Eastern tastes included. You can start with ground nuts and work your way up to herbs and other spices.