In my adult life I have had many “ah-ha moments,” I would describe these moments as illuminations to previously dull thoughts. Occasionally, these mind blowing moments are harsh reality checks; like learning one must yield when turning left, or that some people actually believe opposing politics. However, in relation to food many of these moments have been eye-opening, game-changing, and passion-inducing.
While working at a wine bar in Cambridge MA I discovered a calm, solace, and passion in cheese. This wine bar labeled each featured cheese on their cheese boards for their texture, rind, or taste. A cheese with a natural outer layer of cheese was named “Earth,” a blue cheese “The Blues,” and those decadent rich double and triple-creme cheeses, “Butter.” That was my “ah-ha moment” to the accessibility and incredible culture (no pun intended), surrounding cheese.
My first bite of pure white, salty, creamy, and tangy Delice de Bourgogne induced a passion for dairy decadence. My first bite followed by a sip of bubbly gave me direction in a way nothing else had. Yes, cheese and wine gave me career direction, illuminated my passion, and made my heart burst.
The relation of soft creamy cheeses to butter has had me thinking. Butter is an overlooked, but essential component to so many dishes. Butter makes a soft creamy velouté sauce, a swipe of butter flavors a crusty baguette, butter highlights the sweetness in lobster, and butter binds dough together when you bake cookies for a family member in need.
Butter also comes in so many forms, from Ghee and Clarified Butter, to different shaped butter pats, different milks spun into butters, and different compound butters. What differentiates butter from cheese? Butter is a mix of water, milk, buttermilk, and (sometimes) salt, while cheese involves the process of separating the curd from the whey to create a different texture.
My parents recently asked Nick and I to cook them a steak on the grill. My parents moved away from a home with a charcoal grill and they had been craving a char-boiled steak. We obliged, purchasing our steaks at Janetos -our favorite local butcher. I decided to highlight the taste of the grilled steak with a compound butter. One pat of shallot-blue cheese butter added a richness to the steak that made our simple Saturday night supper taste like Peter Lugers. Compound butter is versatile, long lasting in the fridge or freezer and so easy to make.
Below are a few of my favorite compound combinations.:
TIP: After mixing the butter in your food processor lay out a sheet of plastic wrap the size of a standard piece of paper. Using a scraper scrape the butter onto the center of the plastic wrap. Carefully roll the butter into a log using the plastic wrap. Roll each end like a Tootsie-Roll and place in freezer to harden. Thaw before using.
Shallot Blue Cheese: In food processor mix 1 softened unsalted stick of butter with one small shallot (diced), and 1/4 cup of crumbled blue cheese. Serve with steak or on hamburger.
Lemon Zest Dill: In food processor mix 1 softened unsalted stick of butter with the zest of 1 medium lemon, and 2 TBSP. of dill. Serve with salmon or asparagus.
Charred Green Onion and Lime: Char 1 medium bunch of Green Onions over a charcoal flame, place in paper bag and shake to remove dark burnt pieces, chop finely and mix with butter, and the juice of 1 Lime in food processor. Season with salt as needed. Serve with pork tenderloin or in carnita tacos.
Maple Chili Pepper: In food processor mix 1 stick of salted butter, 1 TBSP. of red pepper flake and 2 TBSP. of Vermont Maple Syrup. Serve on pork chops, chicken thighs, or on shrimp skewers.