• Butter

If you're lucky enough to have a farmers' market on your doorstep, pick-up a slab of freshly churned butter and slather it over thick toast - unbeatable!

Although butter is made by churning cream, this simple and traditional process produces a wide range of interesting flavours.

British and continental butters
It's easy to spot the differences between British and continental butters. British butter has a deep colour and rich creamy flavour, while continental butters are paler and more subtle.

The actual butter making process also differs slightly. The kind of butter favoured in the UK - known as sweet cream butter - is pasturised giving it a slightly nuttier, cooked taste. The continental version - raw cream butter - is not pasturised which acounts for the paler colour and creamy taste.

In supermarkets, a good way to tell different types of butter apart is by their wrapper - British butter is often sold in gold-coloured wrappers, while lactic butter, tends to be wrapped in silver-coloured foil.

In the kitchen
Salted butter is usually used for everyday use, while unsalted butter tends to be a key ingredient in baking - the preferred choice of chefs.

Unlike margarine and other substitutes (made from a single oil or blend of oils), butter browns well in a pan, taking on an appealing nutty taste which complements pan-fried fish, especially skate and sole.

Versatile butter is good at taking-on other flavours and is often mixed with crushed garlic, fresh herbs or mustard. Garlic and herb butter is especially popular as a filling for baked French bread.

Flavoured butters also enliven grills and pan-fried steaks and can be shaped into cylinders and frozen for use at a later date.

Brandy or rum butter, a 'hard sauce' accompaniment to Christmas pudding, is sweetened butter, flavoured with fruit juice and alcohol - a must-have trimming to the festive pud...

Hollandaise, an indulgent buttery sauce, is made with generous amounts of melted butter, drizzled into beaten egg yolks and sharpened with lemon juice. Other butter-rich sauces include beurre blanc, a creamy, slightly sharpish sauce, often served with fish.

Heating it up
Clarified butter is good for frying because the milk solids have been removed, so it can be heated to a high temperature without burning.

Ghee (clarified butter) is used in many special occasion Indian recipes, lending a rich note to spiced dishes and sweets. Because ghee has no moisture, it can be kept for several months in the refrigerator. Tins of ghee can be bought from ethnic grocers and larger supermarkets.

Substitutes
Goat's milk butter, available from specialist shops and many supermarkets is an ideal substitute to cow's milk butter and is especially suitable for those people who are intolerant of dairy products.
 

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