- Associated Press - Thursday, October 6, 2011

Remember when butter came in two varieties — salted and not?

Food writer and blogger Leitha Matz can, which makes it all the more surprising when she contemplates the herd of butter choices crowding grocery shelves.

“There’s cultured butter, there are artisanal butters. You can get butter that is more yellow in the spring and summer than it is in the autumn and winter because you can actually see the transition of what the animal is eating,” she says.

In fact, Miss Matz, who taste-tested a raft of butters for her blog, MissGinsu.com, found herself “astounded at the sheer breadth and variety of butter that was available.”

Spread the news: Butter is getting better in the United States.

“There’s definitely been a kind of whirlwind with butter,” said Andrew Knowlton, restaurant and drinks editor at Bon Appetit magazine.

Like bacon, butter has traveled an interesting path. A handcrafted product 50 or so years ago, it descended into a mass-produced, taste-shackled commodity only to be resurrected in recent years as interest in good, handcrafted food has grown.

First the bread at restaurants improved, then chefs, who were listing the names of farm suppliers on their menus, got serious about butter. These days, there are wildly popular butters produced by outfits including Straus Family Creamery on the West Coast and the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery on the East.

There even are “cult” butters, such as the handmade product from a small dairy called Animal Farm in Orwell, Vt., which is a supplier to celebrated chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and French Laundry restaurants.

For those with a taste for the exotic, there’s the butter made in Brittany that is flecked with algae.

“When you go to the grocery store now, it’s not just the local dairy and the big brand. You’ve got seven or eight to choose from, including imported butters. We kind of caught up to the Europeans,” Mr. Knowlton said.

How does butter fit in with that other big food trend — eating healthy?

Quite well, Mr. Knowlton said.

“It goes within my definition of eating healthy, which is you eat less when there’s flavorful food on the plate and you don’t if you’re using fake cheese or low-cal whatever,” he said. “I think anything where people are thinking and talking about what they’re putting in their mouths is part of a healthy diet.”

Allison Hooper, co-founder of the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery, agreed.

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