Unfortunately it is very good
Since we tasted every fancy butter that we could get our hands on, I have been on a quest. You see, there is one fancy butter that is so rare and so fancy that it is nearly impossible to try. It is not a butter that you can smuggle back in a cooler from France, nor one that you can find on a small farm in Ireland. No, this butter is made in Vermont. Orwell, Vermont, to be exact, which is where its literary name comes from. I'm talking about Animal Farm Butter, the rarest butter in the country.
It is rare because almost all of it is bought, directly from the source, by fine dining restaurants. A great deal of it goes to Thomas Keller, and a small amount is available at the Middlebury Food Co-Op. But unless you're best friends with the chef of the French Laundry or you live in Vermont, the only way to obtain some is when, once a year, Saxelby Cheesemongers sells the surplus. And according to anyone who cares about butter, this stuff is something true butter nerds need to taste. "It had a consistency reminiscent of great vanilla ice cream and a long, worrying finish," Alex Halberstadt wrote in Saveur. Hugh Merwin deemed the price tage "absolutely worth it" over at Grub Street. Boston chef Ryan McCaskey told DNAInfo that he saw diners eating the butter straight, no bread, at his restaurant Acadia. "It’s fatty, very clean. It coats your mouth,” McCaskey said. “If you taste it next to butter from the store, it’s crazy. The butter from the store tastes like wax."
This year, the butter was $60 a pound, not including shipping. It sold out in three minutes. I know that it sold out in three minutes because I was waiting on my computer anxiously when it dropped at 9 a.m., and by the time I had finished filling in my payment information, it was gone. But luckily our Senior Food and Drinks editor Kat Kinsman was faster on the draw than I was—she chalks this up to years of practice nabbing concert tickets—and generously agreed to share the butter with the Extra Crispy team. Three days later, four balls of butter arrived in a Ziploc bag. If you didn't know what you were looking at, you wouldn't realize that this is the biggest butter flex in the world.
The woman who makes Animal Farm butter, Diane St. Clair, uses Jersey cream that she skims by hand with a ladle. She also hand kneads and churns it. It's all very turn of the last cetury. The butter is cultured, but not salted, which is a point of contention among butterheads, but St. Clair believes the flavor works better without salt. I prefer a salted butter but I'm not going to argue with a cult-favorite butter maker, so I tasted the butter three ways: on a cracker, straight up, and with a tiny bit of salt.
For comparison, I also ate a little bit of Bordier, the reigning champion in my previous butter tasting, and some Whole Foods brand butter I use for baking. I allowed all three to come up to room temperature for peak spreadability. I realize it's not fair to compare Whole Foods butter to either Bordier or Animal Farm. It's like bringing a butter knife to a joust. This butter is perfectly serviceable for cookies, pie crusts, and finishing sauces. Next to the big guns here it tasted like spreading unflavored lard paste on a cracker. The Animal Farm isn't a showy butter—it's creamy, sweet, and bright, sunny-yellow. The fat isn't overly oily or greasy. It settles nicely onto your tongue but it doesn't feel like its coating it in a way that will take you three eals to remove. It's cheerful and sort of minimalist. I was surprised that it was cultured, since it didn't have much of a tang to it, nor did it have the barnyard notes that some cultured butters get. It is very good butter. I understand why chefs like it, too. It's not something that would overshadow other flavors in a dish and can easily star on its own.
I do have to say that I prefer it with a little salt, but that's not surprising, since I love salted butter. The Bordier, to my palate, is a little more complex and greener, a bit more of a showstopper. The Animal Farm is a Brooklyn-expensive butter, like a plain linen dress that costs $4000. It's made perfectly, but there aren't any ornaments on it. It's delicious, unfortunately. If you get a chance to try it, try it. And say hi to Thomas Keller for me while you're at it.