If it came down to choosing my final bite on this planet, I would be happy to taste bread and butter. That said, it would have to be a yeasty, crusted loaf and real fresh butter with a sprinkle of flaky salt. There is something soul satisfying and sigh-worthy about that iconic combination.
Butter has suffered some serious hard times PR-wise over the past few decades with attacks coming from the anti-fat, vegan and green critics. Now that butterfat has been rebranded as a healthy “good” fat, it’s staging a major comeback despite the rise of “plant-based butter”… formerly known as “margarine.”
Butter also has new champion, Shauna Lee Strecker. She opened Bella La Crema as the world’s first butter bar in a small storefront in Lyons. At the 18-month-old shop and eatery, bread and butter is Strecker’s bread and butter. Other Boulder County food spots serve flights of wines, whiskies or craft ciders. Bella La Crema dishes flights of butter.
This unlikely business is the talk of the national and international press with stories in Australia, the U.K. and Germany as well as the Times of India and Food & Wine.
Strecker and her crew add cultures to organic, grass-fed, low-heat pasteurized, non-homogenized fresh cream and churn it into butter. Yogurt-like cultures result in a higher-fat, silkier and richer-tasting product plus probiotic-rich buttermilk.
“Real butter is alive, full of nutrients and flavors. A lot of the butter on the shelf at supermarkets is dead,” Strecker says, noting the way most butter is processed.
Butter has been on her mind since she was growing up in Denver. “One of my first food memories was in kindergarten. We passed around a big jar full of cream and shook it. I was fascinated by the metamorphosis of cream into butter and buttermilk. I’ll never forget the taste of that butter on an unsalted matzoh cracker,” Strecker says.
In the years to come she would experiment with making truffle butter as a Christmas present. In 2012 she found herself with two gallons from a raw cow milk share and discovered the bliss of fresh cultured butter. She started making compound butter with diverse ingredients and found customers excited about it.
“That’s when I thought: ‘I’m going to make butter great again,’” she says. Strecker opened Bella La Crema as a café and production space for churning butter in September 2018.
Up to 20 evocatively named, seasoned compound butters are on the menu at a time including Ode to Neruda (paprika, garlic, onions and lime), What Lola Wants (ghost pepper, honey and oregano) and Monet’s Garden (lavender, vanilla, rose and nutmeg).
When I stopped in to visit, I ordered a flight of flavors and a warm baguette but made sure it included the right stuff straight from the churner: plain cultured butter. The taste difference is remarkable but hard to describe. It’s fresher, richer, cleaner, tastier and more buttery. I also enjoyed a mug of coffee with an invigorating slick of Mayan Chocolate Muse: butter with chocolate, coffee, cinnamon and cayenne.
Bella La Crema is a tiny place with a handful of tables that has a huge takeout and online business. But it’s also becoming a foodie daytrip destination. Strecker’s handwritten paper menu each day features simple, French-inspired breakfast and lunch and dishes including pastries, quiche, French onion soup, buttermilk waffles and a breakfast soufflé.
Customers use the compound butter to scramble eggs, sauté vegetables and gnocchi, and to top grilled chicken, steaks and fish. Strecker also makes ghee (clarified butter) and an exquisite dessert sauce of brown butter ghee, sugar and vanilla bean. “I store gallons of frozen buttermilk to make cornbread and marinate chicken. People who grew up drinking it drive a long way to pick up real buttermilk,” she says.
The butter business is getting big. Strecker and crew have been churning 230 pounds of milk at a time, but she says she just bought an even bigger churner to help meet demand.
Evidence of butter’s revival can be seen at restaurants like Chimera, where lobster is butter-poached before topping ramen. At Beleza Coffee Bar, Keto fans look for “bullet-proof” butter-topped coffee. You can find high butterfat French and Irish butters, rolled butters and organic cultured butter on the shelf. Boulder’s Fireworks Finishing butters and Denver’s chef-run Epicurean make first class butters popular for professionals. But only Bella La Crema makes it from scratch.
Local Food News
Denver’s award-winning Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen will open soon at 1089 13th St. (formerly Rose Hill Wine & Spirits). It will serve breakfast and lunch before becoming Rosenberg’s After Dark at 5 p.m., and serving other specialties. It’s the latest outpost in New Jersey native (and CU grad) Joshua Pollack’s mini empire of East Coast-inspired fooderies along the Front Range.
This summer the Vegan Fusion Culinary Academy will open in Boulder offering courses for professionals and home cooks. Founded by award-winning chef Mark Reinfeld, a pioneer in the plant-based culinary world, the academy is “one of the first professional cooking schools in the world dedicated to classic and cutting-edge vegan and raw cuisine while building a thriving vegan community.” Evening classes, 1-3 day workshops and 5-10 day immersions will be available. veganfusionculinaryacademy.com.
Avanti Food & Beverage, a food hall opening in late spring in the old Cheesecake Factory building on Pearl Street, announced three of its first six tenants: Rye Society, a neighborhood delicatessen offering gourmet, made-from-scratch Jewish cuisine from Boulder native Jerrod Rosen; New Yorkese, a pizza concept from OAK’s Steve Redzikowski that put the emphasis on a blistered, chewy crust; and Rooted Craft American Kitchen, an upscale fast casual restaurant headed up by Nicholas Kayser.
Words to Chew On
“It can be exhausting eating a meal cooked by a man. With a woman, it’s, Ho hum, pass the beans. A guy? You have to act like he just built the Taj Mahal.” — Deb Caletti, The Queen of Everything
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU (kgnu.org). Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org