Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Icelandic Butter and Pretty Pictures

When I headed out the door on Saturday night to go to my friend Amy Oliver's photography exhibition, I knew I would get to see great photographs and to drink great beer brewed by Amy's husband Jared.  What I didn't know is that I'd also have the opportunity to eat Jared's homemade bread, still warm from the oven, and topped with a giant blob of Icelandic butter.

Fridgeir's mobile photo of butter.
As we were leaving the event, a 6-foot tall Viking stopped me at the door of the gallery and said, "You can't leave until you try this butter!"  So I figured I'd better do it.

Icelandic butter?  Seriously?  Well, umm... YES.  I know we're all supposed to personally know the cow that our butter comes from these days, but I must say that Icelandic butter-- specifically Smjör slightly salted butter-- is REALLY good.  Decadent even.

Fridgeir Helgason, Summer 2010.  Courtesy F. Helgason.
My Viking friend Fridgeir had just bought Icelandic butter at Whole Foods and decided to bring it to the party when he heard that Jared was making bread for the event.  I was surprised by the amount of enthusiasm that went into his description of this butter as he handed me a thin slice of bread topped with a golfball sized sphere of the stuff.  Even when his girlfriend and all our friends protested at the amount of butter on the tiny slice of bread, I couldn't resist the temptation.  If Fridgeir said this was how to eat the butter of his homeland, then this was the way I was going to eat it.  Fridgeir laughed as he told me that he was preparing me for a winter's trip up the mountain to recover my lost sheep in a snowstorm.  I must say that with this butter in my stomach I think I might have saved the sheep.

My husband later reported that Fridgeir told him that "butter gives the Viking the power to leap out of a hot spring naked in the middle of winter, run to the top of the mountain through a snowstorm holding a sheep over your head going 'Yah!'"  Fridgeir raised his arms over his head as he screamed "Yah!" and when the crowd stared at him, he simply lowered his arms, shrugged and said, "Cause that's what we do in Iceland."  Vikings certainly know how to get attention.  They also know how to eat.

Fridgeir told me that Icelandic butter has a much higher fat content than American butter and as I was eating it, I was a believer.  It was the most amazing commercially-produced butter I'd ever eaten.  It was flavorful and creamy beyond belief.  As I swallowed it, I felt as if my mouth and throat were being coated with a magical substance that lingered for several minutes.  When the magical feeling was gone, I felt a twinge of guilt about how many calories I'd just consumed.  Of course, it was too late at that point and I wondered if I'd encounter any lost sheep on the way home.

The next day, I did a little research and compared the fat content of Smjör butter to the butter in my refrigerator, which just happened to be Whole Food's 365 butter.  The Whole Foods brand had 100 calories  in a one tablespoon serving.  The Smjör butter also had 100 calories in a one tablespoon serving.  I was shocked.  Both butters contained 7 grams of saturated fat, but the Smjör  butter did have slightly more cholesterol.  (Smjör butter had 33 mg of cholesterol compared to 30 mg in the Whole Foods brand.)  If that extra one percent cholesterol made such a big difference, then bring it on!

I'm sure I won't replace my local butter with an imported product, at least not for everyday use.  But rest assured, the next time I decide to make biscuits, I'll be trolling the aisles of Whole Foods looking for Smjör.