When it comes to gourmet food, what is top of mind for you? Caviar, charcuterie, truffles, artisan cheeses, wine? But probably not butter, right? Well, maybe you should rethink that list because a small business in Southern Maine is working hard to change your perception of butter.
Casco Bay Butter was the brainchild of couple Jennell Carter and Alicia Menard. “We’ve always been foodies and had an interest in specialty foods,” Menard said. “We knew we wanted to do something that would support Maine farmers, but we wanted to do something different. There are many artisan cheese makers in Maine, but not artisan butter makers.”
With a little research, the two women came to the conclusion that the artisan butter scene was on the verge of exploding as the artisan cheese did 10 to 12 years ago. They wanted to be at the forefront of the movement.
“It started out with a lot of experimenting with a KitchenAid mixer,” Alicia says. And quality ingredients. These ladies weren’t messing around, and they are not afraid to say the F-word. Fat, fat, fat with a capital F-A-T. Contrary to the belief of many, butter and fat are not all bad, especially if you want your food to taste good. There’s evidence that it’s not the root of all obesity either. You can read about it here.
Fat has been the cornerstone of Casco Bay Butter’s success. Their all-natural butter, which is made from cream from Oakhurst dairy farms, has an 84 percent butterfat content, and people are loving it.
Alicia and Jennell started selling their butter at farmers’ markets, and quickly expanded to four KitchenAid mixers and were making their butter in a church kitchen to keep up with demand. Alicia’s brother Andrew also came on board as a partner and to help with the production. At nine months they had moved on to a 20-quart mixer. By 18 months (January 2013) they had a 15-gallon churn, and that was what they had been using until they moved to a new 2200 square-foot industrial kitchen space in Scarborough and upgraded to a 65-gallon churn this summer. Sixty gallons of cream will yield 30 gallons or 200 pounds of butter. They have also taken on a fourth partner, and everyone pitches in to take turns manning the table at Farmers’ Markets and food festivals. They all get together, along with some volunteers , to package butter to send out to retailers. Because they all still work part-time or full-time, this is often done while burning the midnight oil.
Casco Bay Butter is not just special because it’s a highfat, European-style butter. They are also making flavored compound butters. They have several sweet and savory flavors that are always in stock and are available at many retailers. They are even on store shelves in NYC!
Other flavors are seasonal. Butters made with fresh fruit in the summer obviously have a shorter shelf life and are sold only at farmers’ markets. Flavors like Peach Habanero are made with Above the Dam Jam. “We try to support other Maine products,” Alicia said.
Their product is also special because it is made in small batches, which allows them to be rather particular and have complete control over the final product. Even though the business continues to grow, that will not change, Alicia said.
This weekend the Casco Bay Butter folks will be at the Harvest Festival in Bangor (along with several cheese makers and other dairy producers like Siberia Farms and their delicious flavored milks.) They will have Cranberry Orange, Garlic and Herb, Sea Salt, Salted Caramel, Truffle, Pumpkin Spice, Herbs de Provence and Unsalted butters available, along with holiday gift packs (three containers of butter wrapped up all pretty) featuring Garlic and Herb, Maple, Salted Caramel, Sea Salt or Unsalted. I’m thinking cranberry orange would be worth the trip to Bangor alone.
From personal experience, the Salted Caramel is great for buttering the pancake pan, on banana bread and straight up on a spoon. Cilantro Lime is awesome with corn on the cob. I am thinking onions and garlic sauteed in Truffle Butter would be amazing to add to a chicken soup. Casco Bay Butter also offers up these ideas.