The Tasting SIG Does Butter!

Tasting butter is serious business, especially without the comfort of a cracker or baguette. But that’s what our latest blind product tasting SIG was all about: unsalted butter. In the name of research, we worked our way through nine brands, tasting and scoring based on appearance, texture, and flavor. Being such a perishable product, there were a couple of imported butters that tasted off, probably due to improper storage. They were also the most expensive: Celles sur belle (France) and Delitia (Italy) were $8.39 and $5.50 per half pound respectively.

Our top picks were quite surprising.

First place went to none other than Clover Stornetta Sweet Cream Butter. Tasters found the butter to be pure, sweet, with a clean taste.

There was a tie for second place. Whole Foods 365 Unsalted Butter and Kerrygold Unsalted Butter both won tasters over. Whole Foods was slightly sweet and an all-around unsalted table butter. Kerrygold was a beautiful golden butter with a slightly softer texture. It also had a lovely nutty flavor.

Third place went to Pamplie (France) which has an Appellation of Controlled Origin (AOC) designation, which means that certain standards are adhered to regarding the milk and resulting butter production. Tasters found this butter to be full-flavored, nutty, and rich.

Other butters tasted included Clover Organic, US-produced Plugra, and Petaluma’s McClellan, which was the only salted in the batch but merited inclusion being a local, artisan producer. Many either loved or loathed Plugra.

If anything, our tasting proved that butter is a complex product for the consumer. Questions about cultured versus non-cultured and European versus European-style came up and we wished we had a butter expert on hand. And then the dilemma of which butter to cook with, especially for pastry and cakes, came up as well. Our organizer, Jill Silverman Hough, baked off a few pastry samples and most agreed that ones made with Clover Sweet Cream and ones with Plugra were best, beating those made with shortening and with half shortening/half-Clover.

By Sophia Markoulakis

Member Profile: Mary Risley

Passion for Food & Community
by John Wiest

From years of experience, Mary Risley, founder and director of Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco can tell you the ingredients for a successful chef: passion, dedication and a fine-tuned palate.

Risley started Tante Marie’s in 1973, teaching classes in the tiny kitchen of her San Francisco home. “I learned how to cook well in small spaces,” she laughs.

When people asked her where to attend a professional cooking school, she advised them to study in Paris. “Then I thought, why not learn to cook in San Francisco? We have an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and fish.”

In 1979, she built a bright, airy kitchen in North Beach with space for 16 students and offered professional programs in general cooking and pastry. Her popular avocational classes continue at night and on weekends. Early guest instructors were local chefs who went on to become international celebrities, including Jeremiah Tower, Ken Hom, and Carlo Middione.

Risley was a budding chef by age 9, collecting recipes and baking her way through a book ordered from the back of a box of Baker’s Chocolate. A native of Toronto, Risley says her mother was an accomplished cook who served fresh artichokes and spinach salad – novelties in the 1950s.

But Risley didn’t turn this passion into a career until later in life. Until her 30th birthday, she worked in investment banking. One day, she realized “banking no longer fascinates me.” So she decided to pursue her food passion. In her characteristically determined way, Risley took every cooking class offered in San Francisco, then studied at London’s Cordon Bleu, La Varenne in Paris and with James Beard, Jacques Pepin, Madeleine Kamman and Lorenza de’ Medici.

Risley has been honored by many local and national organizations including “Cooking Teacher of the Year” in 1988 by Bon Appetit magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle and the James Beard Foundation.

Mary is also a writer and published cookbook author with her first book, THE TANTE MARIE’S COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

Risley’s passion for food and cooking extends to the community. In 1987, she launched Food Runners, a volunteer organization that picks up excess food from more than 500 restaurants and other businesses and delivers it to neighborhood feeding programs throughout San Francisco. Nationally, she’s chaired fundraising efforts for Share Our Strength to support hunger relief programs as well.

A note from Mary Risley:

Thank you everyone for honoring me with the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the SFPFS! Although it doesn’t feel like a lifetime, it was about 30 years ago when I first started going to the first Food Society meetings–I remember the early days well. And, it has been over 30 years that I have run Tante Marie’s Cooking School as a full-time culinary school in Northbeach and over 20 years since starting Food Runners. I believe that Tante Marie’s is still doing well because of our efforts to see that everyone attending class has a good experience, and I believe that Food Runners is thriving because of the continued support of the SFPFS and individuals like you who don’t want to see food go to waste. Thank you so very much for this Award–I am truly honored!

Mary Risley
Feb. 2010

Wine SIG Report: Washington State Reds

Washington State = Great Red Wines

When I suggested that our Wine SIG’s tasting should focus on Washington Red wines, there were many curious faces. Few had really explored the wines of the Pacific Northwest and were game for the adventure. And what a joy it was!

Three Syrahs were our first flight. Owen Roe “Ex Unbris” 2007 was well-balanced with juicy fruit. Charles Smith’s “Boom Boom” 2007 was more sophisticated with earthy notes. The Magnificent Wine Company “Syrah” 2006 – #72 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2009 and the Wine SIG’s favorite of the current vintage wines – featured caramelized fruit, smoky cedar notes and a long, layered finish.

Our four Cabernet Sauvignons were equally delicious. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cab 2007, which can be found in most grocery stores for $10.99, was a pleasant surprise with nice fruit was described as very drinkable. Charles Smith’s “Chateau Smith” 2007, another group favorite, was soft yet well-balanced with layered flavors. The Columbia Crest “Walter Clore Private Reserve” 2004 with its multi-layers of flavor and structure kindled a lively debate on whether to drink now or lay-it down for more aging (the vote was split).

Our last wine was the treat of the night. The Woodward Canyon “Artists Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 was in a class by itself with luscious flavors, structured body and a very long finish. It was rated WOW by all.

Other than Ste. Michelle, these wines averaged $16-25 and are rather hard to find in the Bay Area; try K&L in San Francisco or The Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa. The Woodward Canyon was gift from a collector and would be worth $50-60 in today’s market.

Lesson learned – Washington State’s wines are terrific!

The next Wine SIG will be May 10, with the topic being Spanish wines.

By Sharon Goldman