I won’t get fully in to why you can’t find grass fed butter in Ontario/Canada, why grass fed butter is better, etc. But I just wanted to share some info I’ve put together and share how I decided to choose the best butter for the $ available to me personally.
First off I ended up finding some of the top butters I could realistically get my hands on and doing a crude visual analysis. Info on more local butter options below. I grabbed samples of (from top left clockwise) Organic Meadow (most widely available, at Loblaws etc.), Cow’s Creamery (available at specialty shops- I got mine at Hooked on Queen East), L’Ancetre (tricky to find at Health food stores, I have been getting mine from ONFC), and Kerrygold (a popular Irish grass-fed butter that is easy to find when I visit the US).
Kerrygold was the only brand I knew was actually grass-fed (apparently just mostly now). The other organic brands like Organic Meadow and L’Ancetre are known to be from cows that are mostly eating grass, especially seasonally, so I had a hunch that they might stack up fairly well in terms of colour to Kerrygold. See some pictures below. I was quite surprised how striking it was that L’Ancetre clearly had the richest colour. Given the solid brand reputation I was already aware of, this was pretty convincing that this is best brand I can buying and it isn’t ridiculously expensive (see below).
Photos taken Dec. 4 2013 (obviously the date does affect the seasonal eating of the cows but I figured buying in early December a reasonable time). Like with eggs you are looking for a rich deep colour (yellow or orange’ish).
Butter made from cows that have only been fed grass (hay and sileage in winter) is NOT readily available in stores. There are some butters in the market that are organic and pretty good and at certain times of the year are from animals that have been on pasture (mostly) but may have received some additional feed.
For truly pastured butter that is also locally produced, one would need to join a cow-share with a farmer that is trusted to keep the soil healthy, keep the animals in good health and milks and processes in a clean environment. Some of these farmers have extra milk and cream that they process into cheese and/or butter. Cow-share Canada has been training farmers to produce healthy milk that is not pasteurized and contains all the natural nutrients, enzymes and probiotics that are so beneficial to our health.
You as a consumer need to make your decision in terms of which product you want to consume as there is no one best product and most of us have to also balance the cost of foods within our budget.
So here are some products that can be considered:
• BUTTER FROM COWSHARE that exclusively pastures the animals and makes butter from raw cream. Cost of butter + cost of joining cow-share
• KERRYGOLD BUTTER is from Ireland and the animals are exclusively pasture fed. Not sold in Canada at this time due to import restrictions. Pasteurized butter. In Canada, you can find all-natural Kerrygold Cheeses at the following retailers: Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway, Metro, Longos, Loblaws, Sobeys, Thrifty Foods, Overwaitea, Calgary Co-op and Quality Foods.
• DEVON CREAM (47%MF) and CLOTTED CREAM (55MF) are produced from 100% grass fed animals with hay and sileage supplemental feed in the colder UK winter months. It’s not butter but so thick that you could use it to spread over home-made pancakes, crackers, toast, etc. I would not use it to make butter as the cost would be prohibitive. I have seen it sold at Fiesta Farms at 200 Christie St., 3 blocks north of Bloor. PRICE $ 5.99?? for a 6 oz jar. This product isn’t too hard to find. We bought one to just have in the fridge as a heavy cream backup… the expiry date was > 6 months which is pretty awesome.
• ORGANIC VALLEY BUTTER FROM WISCONSIN is supposed to be fabulous! http://www.organicvalley.coop If anybody has an idea of how to get it into Canada or if you know of a store in/near Buffalo that sells it, let us know. They sell European (84% fat) cultured butter and Pasture Butter (salted) which is produced in small quantities and only seasonally.
• L’ANCETRE BUTTER – this butter is made at a Creamery in Quebec. The cream is non-homogenized (but pasteurized) and is great for cooking, making ghee or just eating as is. Cows are NOT exclusively pastured but the pasture content is higher when grass is available. (May to October?) This is the butter that I buy the most. Available at Karma Co-op, Fiesta Farms, Big Carrot, Ambrosia, etc. I have been buying cases from ONFC to bring the price down even further to about $5.42 per 250 g ($65 for a case of 12).
• STIRLING BUTTER – this is a smaller Ontario creamery that makes good butter (not organic and most likely not exclusively pastured). It also makes a special butter that is 84% MF. (usually butter is 80% fat and the extra 4% makes a great difference when baking). They call this butter CHURN 84 RESERVE. The 84% butter sold in stores is unfortunately salted. In order to obtain non-salted high fat butter, one has to buy a block of 25 kg and cut it into manageable pieces. This butter is sold to bakeries but one can order it if one carries a business. Order in mid July or late October for spring/fall butter and higher pasture content. http://www.stirlingcreamery.com
• BROOKERS in Schomberg – deliveries to Toronto for orders of a minimum of $ 100 – They advertise their butter as “unsalted grass fed butter” and it is pasteurized. Price is $ 14/HALF LB and they are presently OUT OF STOCK but I have been told by them that the product should be on their website again in a couple of weeks and possibly at a lower price. You can order online and they do offer delivery. Although when I checked they were out of stock, I would have to pass on the price of $13.00 per half pound. Here’s a forum thread with people buying Brookers butter.
• ORGANIC MEADOW cultured butter, pasteurized. Company states that the cows are 95-100% pastured in the summer and 70 – 85% pastured in the winter. Additional feed is organic (non GMO) alfalfa, peas, oats, soybeans and corn. Widely available, including some Loblaws stores.
• GAY LEA butter, not organic, pasteurized, not exclusively pastured
Butter freezes well. If you find a good source, buy in bulk and freeze for later use. Making ghee is another way to preserve butter but also to remove proteins that some are intolerant to.
Generally the organic butters in the Toronto market are decent. For even conventional butters the Canadian government fortunately does not allow growth hormones to be given to cows to stimulate milk production (in the US conventional milk may have growth hormones).
How to find raw grass fed milk and butter in Canada
Ask Whole9 Canada: Where can I find grass-fed dairy in Canada?
Update: Was pleasantly surprised to see this limited time “Pasture Butter” label on Organic Meadow butter:
OM Pasture Butter
Of course I had to see how it stacked up to L’Ancetre:
OM vs L’Ancetre
Color isn’t everything but L’Ancetre looks pretty darn good comparatively especially considering it was purchased much earlier in the spring vs. the prime summer Organic Meadow. I would like to confirm whether Organic Meadow selectively labels or simply applies it to all their butter this time of year. Regardless it is nice to see a company appealing to savvy butter consumers.