I thought I knew butter. I’ve had Wisconsin butter, Irish butter, garlic butter, organic butter. I thought that I’d had delicious butter before. But then I had this Polish butter, Oselka. I now realize that I had never really tasted butter until now. The flavor was rich, earthy, and creamy, far more flavorful than any butter I’ve had before.
I did not know that Polish people are connoisseurs of butter, so much that they classify their butters:
- masło stołowe—table butter, butter of the lowest quality
- masło ekstra—extra (high-quality) butter, as the butter I tasted, shown above; a Polish friend advises me that this is the best tasting and most expensive. (I paid $4.49 for 300 grams, about 10.5 ounces)
- masło delikatesowe—regular butter
- masło wyborowe—select butter
- masło śmietankowe—cream butter with higher lactose content but lower in fat (but still around 73% fat)
Some Polish butter lovers also distinguish butters by the region of origin, much like wine.
I love that this label proudly announces in big bold red letters “82% fat.” In a world of absurd non- or low-fat products passed off as superior, it is a comfort that there are still people and products in the world who celebrate fat. I’m told by a Polish friend who made butter frequently growing up in Poland that cream is allowed to naturally ferment first, i.e., make sour cream. Butter is then made (via churning or other fat-separating method) with the sour cream, not from unfermented cream. It means that butter made this way contains probiotic microbial species such as Lactococcus lactis and L. mesenteroides. It’s not uncommon for over 100 different bacterial species to be present, especially if cultured naturally and not from a starter. It also means that many American commercial butters do not contain probiotic species.
Of course, if there is a health problem with dairy products, it is certainly not the saturated fat. There are issues with the casein beta A1, the whey protein, the lactose, the hormone content. This is why fermented dairy products are less problematic: lower lactose content, as lactose is fermented to lactic acid; the acidic pH created by fermentation denatures, or breaks down, much of the casein protein, making it less immune system-stimulating. And whey is minimized when buttermilk is removed with making butter.
I love the scents, peppery flavors, and health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil—you can’t go wrong with plenty of olive oil in your diet. But treat yourself to a fat source that is really something special and visit any Polish deli in your region and try the butter. (I purchased mine in suburban Chicago, a Polish hotspot, the same place I buy fermented pickles and sauerkraut for surprisingly low prices. There are online sources, as well.) While the oleic acid content of Polish butter is not as high as extra-virgin olive oil, it is still substantial (around 20% or higher).
Margarine? Don’t make me laugh. (Margarine, by the way, encapsulates so much that went wrong in dietary thinking in the 20th century: replace saturated fat, a naturally occurring and benign fat, with hydrogenated and polyunsaturated omega-6 fats, then declare it as superior when it was all, in truth, horrible for health. “Cut your fat, eat more healthy whole grains, everything in moderation, etc.—the awful dietary fictions that should all be dead and buried by now.
To obtain the full health benefits of this butter made from fermented milk, enjoy it unheated, so that microbes are not killed. I can only speculate that unique microbial species that ferment the cream, a grass- and forage-based diet, perhaps different breeds of cows may all contribute to the unique and delightful flavors in this butter.
After having this Polish butter, I don’t think I will be able to use anything but this butter—it’s that good. I have no relationship with the manufacturer of this butter nor any of its retailers. I tell you this only because it is delicious.