Should You Buy That Expensive European Butter At The Grocery Store?

It depends on how you plan to use it.

sliced butter stick
Photo: Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

European butters are everywhere, but as you may have noticed, they tend to cost more than the sweet cream butter you're probably used to buying. Some varieties are only $1 more; others are almost twice the price.

One of the most coveted European butters is Le Beurre Bordier from France, which you'll struggle to find stateside, but can be purchased online for the pretty price of $14 for just 125g of butter (about one stick).

If you've ever wondered how and when to use European butter, or why it costs more, let us explain.

What Is European Butter?

It's a style of cultured butter that has been churned longer to achieve a higher butterfat content. Butter is mainly two things: water and fat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), butter has to be at least 80% butter fat by law, but in Europe that number is slightly higher at 82%, hence the extra churning. Typically, European butter is also allowed to ferment, so it has a slightly tangy taste, but can also be made with added cultures to achieve the same lightly sour flavor.

It's not to be confused with Irish butter, which has also started cropping up in the grocery store. While European butter is most often sold unsalted and cultured, Irish butter is most often sold salted and uncultured. It's also has a high butterfat content of 82%, but is a vibrant yellow color thanks to grass-fed cows whose milk is tinted with beta carotene from lush Irish grasslands.

Is European Butter Better For Baking?

Before you go swapping out the butter in your fridge, you should know that European butters' higher fat content is not always what you want when baking.

European butter is ideal for laminating doughs, like croissants, where the higher fat and lower water content makes the butter more pliable and easier to sheet into thin layers. The 2% butterfat difference may not seem like much, but with something as precise as lamination, it can help define the layers.

In other baking applications, subbing European butter for regular can lead to greasy and dense baked goods. European butter is often said to enhance the butter flavor in baked goods, but once blended into a dough or batter, that added flavor most often gets lost.

It can also negatively impact the texture of baked goods. For example, European butter can yield less flaky all-butter piecrusts as the water in butter is what creates steam, and steam is what creates flakes in the piecrust. So less water means fewer flakes.

What's The Best Way To Use European Butter?

On toast. You'll really get to taste the butter, enjoy it in its purest form, and make the most of the extra money spent.

Aside from toast, it's best used in places where butter is a star ingredient, and you'll really have the opportunity to taste it. When it comes to baking, if you're ambitious enough to try laminating at home, pick some up. Otherwise, you can stick with your favorite American brand.

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