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3-Way Butter Taste Test: Anchor vs. President vs. Isigny Sainte Mère Demi Sel

If you had to choose to live without either butter or chocolate, which would you choose? Both are dire (albeit hypothetical) prospects. For me, after careful consideration, I’d have to choose butter. I just can’t live without croissants, hollandaise sauce, cream cheese frosting, or lemon curd. Butter, really good butter, is one of life’s singular pleasures. I can’t think of anything more delicious than simple butter on lightly toasted bread, with a light sprinkling of sugar, salt, or both.

Butter, really good butter, is one of life’s singular pleasures.

But what makes butter good butter? Does it have to be made from organic milk? Is butter from grass-fed cows really that much better than that from corn/grain fed cows? Is winter butter, almost white from the hay the cows eat, better than the yellower, grass-fed spring butter? Is European butter, with a minimum butterfat content of 82%, better than its less-fatty counterparts?

To try to answer some of these questions, I conducted a taste test between three butters.

The Contenders

I focused the color, texture, and taste of the raw butter.

For the purposes of this test, I focused solely on three things: the color, texture, and taste of the raw butter. I sampled the butter several ways: on its own (I tasted about 1/8 teaspoon portions of each), and on some toasted pandesal (both by itself and then with a sprinkling of salt (for the unsalted varieties) and muscovado sugar).

1. Anchor Unsalted (PHP 80-90 for 227 grams)

This is the butter that we all grew up with. While it’s the cheapest among the butters I tested, it’s not entirely without pedigree. It is imported from New Zealand, where the use of growth hormones is prohibited in dairy farming. The local website for Anchor does not provide further detail on the production process, or the grazing standards for the cows, but the international Anchor site indicates that the cows are free-range and grass-fed. Whether that applies to the cows that produce the milk for the butter exported to the Philippines is not known.

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2. President Unsalted (PHP 140-155 for 200 grams)

President is a French brand that makes cheeses and other dairy products. While this is still a mass-produced butter, they take their butter very seriously in France. It’s probably still fancier than most other choices in your local grocery. It is made in Normandy, one of France’s foremost dairy regions, with milk from grass-fed cows.

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3. Isigny Sainte Mère Demi Sel (PHP465 for 250 grams)

This butter is made from cows that graze on grass within a specified region.

Beurre d’Isigny is butter from a small area of Normandy granted an AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) certification. This means that the butter is made from cows that graze on grass within a specified region that gives their milk distinct characteristics specific to the region’s terroir. The cream from the cow’s milk is cultured for sixteen to eighteen hours and the matured cream (which turns into a sort of crème fraîche) is then churned into butter. The unsalted variant was out of stock, so I had to work with the lightly salted (2% salt) variety.

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The Victor

The French win this one, without a shadow of a doubt. Anchor butter is, I’m sorry to say, bland. Even on its own, the buttery flavor I’ve learned to look for was barely perceptible. When spread over the toasted bread, it was completely lost. I placed a very generous pat of it on the pandesal, and I could still barely taste it. It just felt and tasted like the bread was brushed with a neutral-tasting oil. It also had the greasiest mouthfeel among the three butters, as well as the palest color.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that the French, who consume the most butter per person globally, also make the best butters in this test. I’m pretty sure the global title is a lock for them as well. After the disappointing blandness of Anchor, both the President and the Isigny Sainte Mère butters reaffirmed my ardent love for the stuff. Both had a wonderful, subtle nutty flavor that still shone through, even on top of pandesal. Both also had a slight tang (one that’s more pronounced in the Isigny butter) stemming from the fermentation process. While both French butters were smoother on the tongue than Anchor, the Isigny butter was denser and silkier than it’s mass-produced compatriot. The AOC butter also wins the beauty round with it’s buttercup yellow color, a distinguishing characteristic of Beurre d’Isigny.

Both had a wonderful, subtle nutty flavor

The President and the Isigny Sainte Mère are both so good, I really couldn’t choose between the two (even after way too many taste tests and one whole empty bag of pandesal). Of course, if my wallet could talk, it would insist on the President. The Isigny butter is just too expensive for everyday consumption. A part of me wants to keep the current roll I have under lock and key in the fridge.

What did we learn from this test, apart from the fact that I can blame Pepper for the spike in my cholesterol levels this month? Like chocolate, it does pay to spend a little more on Normandy’s white gold for a significantly better flavor and eating experience. If you’re going to be consuming the calories anyway, shouldn’t you choose the tastiest and silkiest option you can?

Do you like butter as much as I do? Or are you puzzled by my Paula Deen-tendencies? Do you have a favorite butter to use? Sound off in the comments.

33 Responses

  1. I just bought a isigny to put it in my coffee, I just tasted a teaspoon and is really good! Im sure is going to taste amazing once i blend it with the coffee. Can’t wait.

  2. Thanks Pepper, I was just looking over President butler’s website where they failed to mention the grassfeeding of their livestock…
    I am a Bulletproof Coffee drinker, https://www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too/ and had started using President instead of KerryGold, finding it to have a superior taste, was trying to ascertain it’s quality which you seem to have better knowledge of than their website!
    The science from that author shows grassfed butter (and meat) to have a better quality, quantity and digestible medium chain triglycerides (MCT) content this the health benefit.
    I was doubtful of the coffee, but after a week on this I am fully on board. Must use a blender!
    With just that one cup of coffee in the morning I have enough energy to last me past 2pm or even 4pm!

  3. Ooh…you should try Kerrgold Irish Butter. It’s always soft no matter how much refrigeration it’s set in, with just the right amount of salty-sweet-creamy & like Cher, will last well beyond a nuclear holocaust (or so it seems).

  4. Hello.

    Stumbled incidently on this post and actually I am surprised you are able to find several french butters in the philipines.

    If you can grab one from “noirmoutier” or “guérande”, try them out..and if you really love butter try to make yourself some “kouign amann” (google it)

    regards,

    ferti

    1. Yup. Beurre d’Echire is also available here.

      I LOVE Kouign-Amann. What’s not to love about the dough-y buttery caramel-y pastry? I don’t have the guts to make my own, though. Even experienced pastry chef David Lebovitz had difficulty making one, and my baking skills are nowhere near the vicinity of his.

  5. Everything’s better with butter. 🙂 But 465 pesos for 250 grams of butter? I don’t know if I’ll be willing to spend that much for butter but I’ll give it try.

    1. Hi, Albert! Queensland is my fave too! Apir! Perfect pan de sal palaman! :))

  6. Always thought that Pepper.ph borrows a lot from Serious Eats, even this topic…which I actually think is GREAT, because it features products I can actually find easily. Hope you guys can emulate the blind taste tests too.

    1. Except that was the point of the piece, to use unsalted butter. Just like the Beurre Président, another “basic” unsalted butter used for cooking and baking in France (and yet, was still full of flavor by itself…mostly, I suspect, because of the higher butter fat content). We would’ve used unsalted Isigny Sainte Mère as well but the unsalted variant didn’t arrive in time.

    2. But as you might have read above, even the Président Unsalted butter was very flavorful. The difference is night and day, even I was surprised by the huge disparity between President and Anchor. So it’s not a given that unsalted = bland and flavorless. Even if a butter is mainly used for baking, it’s no excuse for it to be flat and tasteless. Quite the contrary, actually. Especially for baked goods where butter is a principal ingredient, like pound cake and croissants, the taste of your final product will really suffer with an inferior butter.

  7. For a french like me, Anchor butter is just a joke. As you said, no flavor. President is considered a basic butter in my country, but a ok one (we use it for cooking, baking, etc.).
    The thing I notice about your Isigny Sainte Mère butter is that the color isn’t the same inside and outside ; that shouldn’t be. This butter has been slightly melting then solidifying again when put back in the fridge. It means the milk fat and the milk solids have started to separate on the outside (not good, unless you want to make clarified butter :P). I guess the cold chain was broken at some point…
    One last thing : french butter usually arrives frozen in the Philippines. Meaning you shouldn’t re-freeze your butter, for obvious health reasons.

    1. I know exactly when the cold chain was broken. I bought it at Terry’s, went home, then forgot about the butter being in my handbag for about a couple of hours. Haha!

  8. What’s the best butter to use for baking? I currently use Elle and Vire unsalted but I was wondering if there was a better choice.

  9. Great post, i love bread and butter! 🙂

    this is me being nostalgic, but it always felt nice when you had butter in a can, like the queensland brand which I don’t see much of these days. 🙂 pandesal fresh from the bakery, a large pat of butter, and thick, hot chocolate served in a demitasse make for great mornings!

  10. Just thought the third one had an unfair advantage flavor-wise because it is semi-salted, so naturally it would be a lot more flavorful. Technically, the three butters were on unequal footing.

    When I was in the US, Tillamook Butter was a great store-bought staple. Locally, for really special preparations, I try to use Elle & Vire butter products but they are very hard to source, and simply too expensive to use and abuse. My butter of choice for baking and cooking, and for daily “patting-on-everything” is the locally produced Golden Crown, though it’s not really butter but a butter compound.

    1. Agreed. Very difficult to compare unsalted butter and salted butter (“demi-sel”, meaning using fine salt instead of rock salt for “beurre salé”).

    2. Yup, agree. But I already bought the Anchor and the President before I found out that Terry’s only had demi sel.

      When I was tasting the three, I did try my best to focus on the other notes in the Isigny butter, the very subtle tanginess, the nuttiness in it. I think I ate the most of it among the three (Or maybe that’s just my excuse to eat more butter). I also did try the Anchor and President with a little salt to compare with the Isigny. It wasn’t a perfect comparison, of course, but I did try to even the playing field for all three.

      1. No no I understand 🙂 Thanks for explaining. I would soooo eat butter, though. Straight from the stick. Just because BUTTER.

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