Back in the late 1970s we were warned to eliminate fat intake from milk, eggs, cheese, and butter. Excessive calories and arterial damage were linked with dairy foods. I followed along like most health-conscious folks and cut back on whole-milk products. Substituting grey-blue skim milk on my morning cereal, I also replaced our table butter with margarine. It tastes like butter! Not really, but we did it anyway.
In 2014 investigative journalist Nina Teicholz wrote a book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” that became a bestseller (http://thebigfatsurprise.com). She observed that “dietary guidelines encouraged Americans to shift to a high carbohydrate diet.” Her argument: “Taking meat, butter, dairy, and real cheese off the plate and replacing them with carbohydrates coincided with an alarming increase in obesity rates and related health problems.”
It turns out that we DO need some fat in our diet. Teicholz’s advice was to leave the high-carbohydrate diet and return to a diet of 40 percent carbs and 40 percent fat, which is “what we were eating in the 1960s before embarking on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.” Fabulous news, isn’t it? Eggs cooked in a dollop of butter, a shaving of Gruyere cheese on the top, with a swig of caffeine jolt juice doused with delicious whole milk. That’s my breakfast of champions. I am lucky to have a husband who cooks mostly French recipes; Julia Child and Jacques Pépin love butter and cream!
Chef-owner Bart Vandaele of Belga Cafe on Barracks Row, who brought Belgian food to DC, explained. “Personally, I eat what nature gives me. I eat whole eggs, not just the whites. That’s the way the chicken made it.” His health tip: add a tomato salad with your cheese plate and a glass of wine to help digestion. “We Europeans use butter and always have. It is healthier than margarine which is factory made, not from nature.” The mussel pots at Belga’s are made from wine, butter, herbs, and vegetables. The flavor is pure heaven.
Another local chef, Bridget Sasso, owner of Radici, said her key ingredient in the ragu sauce is salted butter. They saute chopped carrots and onions in butter rather than olive oil in their scrumptious red sauce. Butter sweetens the sauce and adds a velvet texture.
Wanting to know the stats of cultures that live the longest and what they consume, I learned that olive oil, wild greens, potatoes, cheese, beans, coffee, honey, meat, yogurt, and pure butter fill their diets, depending on their region and what they can grow. Some folks can survive for 80-plus years on whale blubber. What they are not eating could be the real clue to their longevity. Soda, chips, pizza, and fast food were lacking in that survey. In other words, no processed foods or beverages.
Using all natural ingredients, Stephan Lezla, chef/owner of Montmartre, an award-winning French restaurant on the Hill, demonstrated how a scoop of butter added at the end of a dish of scallops provides sheen and flavor. He heated a pan of olive oil, then sprinkled pepper and salt on both sides of his scallops, quickly searing and cooking each side. Then he poured out the cooked oil as waste and added butter to glaze. Simple perfection.
Another popular French sauce is beurre blanc (white butter), made by reducing shallots, white wine vinegar, and black pepper until there is almost no liquid, then adding butter. “Whisk the sauce constantly after adding the butter,” Lezla warned. “Never let it boil or burn; it is perfect to drizzle over fish. C’est magnifique!”
There are varieties in butter. Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, vending at Eastern Market since 1964, has many tasty selections – grass-fed, organic, kosher, USDA Grade AA, German, Irish, and truffle butter – to die for. Bowers also sells three-pound blocks of salted or unsalted butter. Owner Michael Bowers said a customer flies in from Texas every year to buy 10 pounds of his butter. Butter can be frozen for flavor protection and future use.
Agora Farms, outside on weekends at Eastern Market, sells wholesale dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables from Amish, Mennonite, and English farmers in Pennsylvania. Dan Donahue gave me a sample of the Amish sharp cheddar, dubbed by a customer “crack cheese.” Salty, flaky, and creamy, it fit the description. I will be back each week for more!
For a buttery dessert treat, indulge in one or two of chef and co-owner Christine Schaefer’s melt-in-your-mouth brown butter doughnuts at District Doughnuts on Barracks Row (and at a new Georgetown location and seasonally at Nationals Park).
So, slather your toast with real butter and vitamins A, D, E, and K, calcium, antioxidants, lecithin, and the “good” fat we need to sustain energy, brain functioning and gastrointestinal health. Go ahead, butter up!
Local Butter-Friendly Venues
Belga Cafe, 514 Eighth St. SE, 202-544-0100
Radici, 303 Seventh St. SE, 202-758-0086; www.radici-market.com
Montmartre, 327 Seventh St. SE, 202-544-1244; http://montmartredc.com
Agora Farms at Eastern Market, weekends outside; www.agorafarms.com
Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, Eastern Market, 202-544-7877; bowerscheese.com
District Doughnuts, 749 Eighth St. SE and Cady’s Alley in Georgetown NW, 202-750-1955; www.districtdoughnut.com
Karen Cohen is a resident of Capitol Hill, an award-winning freelance photojournalist, master and organic gardener, certified residential planner, and avid explorer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.