Butter makes everything better. Of course it does. Sure you can have a glorious crusty sourdough, but add a good quality butter and life is instantly amazing. I'm talking about butter that's rich, creamy and slightly tangy from culture. It's the kind of butter you can eat with a spoon. Repeatedly.
Today you can't talk butter without mentioning Pepe Saya. This cultured butter is handmade from single origin cream sourced directly from Country Valley grass-fed dairy cows in Picton. What originally started as a one-man operation has expanded into a local success story. Pepa Saya butter is now used or served at Aria, Rockpool Bar and Grill, Arras, Sepia, Black by Ezard, Restaurant Atelier and Bells at Killcare. From 1 March 2012 it will be served to Qantas first class passengers.
Country Valley cream; creme fraiche aged for two weeks;
whipping the cream into butter; and virgin butter
The man behind Pepa Saya is Pierre Issa, born to a Lebanese dad and Scottish Australian mum. Issa grew up in Lebanon and fondly remembers a simpler life that was more connected to food sources. "I remember when I was a kid you had to go to the lady in the village who owned two cows to buy your milk." Issa says they would make their own cream and their own cheeses.
He's the first person in his family to go into food production and admits his dad was incredulous when he heard about his butter plans. "No one took me seriously at first. My dad said I was an idiot. He said 'Who would pay that much for butter when I can go to the supermarket and buy a block for a few dollars?'"
At his current premises in Tempe, Issa is more than happy to take us around on a tour. He's young, warm and chatty, and his passion for butter is unmistakable. He moved in six months ago after production demands outstripped the constraints of his former lease in St Peters. The factory is tucked down a industrial small cul-de-sac, in the shadow of the newly opened Ikea. He shares the 450 metre square space with Pat and Stick's ice cream and dessert supplier Homemade Fine Foods, creating an inner west oasis of hedonistic pleasure.
Draining and washing the butter
We scrub down, don aprons and shower caps and step through to the commercial production area. Issa takes us through the entire process of butter production, allowing us to taste from the huge vat of fresh Country Valley cream and then allowing us to compare this with the slightly more acidic creme fraiche, aged for two weeks.
The difference between normal butter and cultured butter is the addition of lactic bacteria. It's this bacteria which turns cream into creme fraiche, adding a slight tang from fermentation that is scientifically known as diacetyl. Adding the lactic bacteria changes the pH level of the cream from 7 to 4.2. It's this fermentation which gives cultured butter a greater complexity in flavour and taste.
The creme fraiche is beaten, turning into whipped cream and then a stage called popcorn butter. It looks just like popcorn. The process of butter, Issa explains, is about smashing molecules in the cream. "At Pepe Saya, however, we do it gently."
Virgin butter is the stage just before the butter splits and the buttermilk separates. This type of butter is popular across Scandinavia - acidic, wet and slightly grainy in texture. It requires skill to catch the virgin butter as only a few seconds stand between this and split butter. Virgin butter is served at Noma in Denmark.
Freshly churned butter
When the butter has split, the buttermilk separates as a cloudy liquid. This is pure buttermilk, unlike the stuff you find at the supermarket, Issa explains, which is usually milk soured with lactic acid. He supplies the buttermilk free to restaurants that order his butter - the acid is brilliant for baking. Once you've made pancakes with real buttermilk, he says, there's no going back.
The buttermilk is drained and then the butter is washed with water. It's important to get rid of all the buttermilk to remove the acidity and sourness. He uses Sydney tap water as it's certified as safe to drink and the mineral breakdown is readily available.
Squeezing the excess water from the butter
The butter is dumped out onto the metal bench and then small handfuls are grabbed and squeezed of excess water. These are then combined into one large mass and then kneaded gently until most of the water has been removed.
Kneading the butter; Olsson's salt;
Bertha the mixer, a recent acquisition from Bird Cow Fish
Salt is added in two stages. In the first stage, Issa adds Olsson's kiln dried fine salt, the same salt used in the salt licks that Country Valley dairy farmers give to their cows. It's a deliberate food chain continuance by Issa.
Keading in the salt flakes
Murray River salt flakes are the last thing to be added. "All our butter is handmade. It's our point of difference," says Issa. It's this small batch approach that allows Pepe Saya to custom make butters for individual clients. Rockpool, for example, is made to a set recipe with specific salt levels. Other restaurants request a log shape or blocks. When Michael McEnearney from Kitchen by Mike came around, they worked together to create a rustic twine-wrapped butter pat that could be left on the chopping board for customers to help themselves.
Moulding the butter into paper and wrapping it with twine
Grating French truffles onto butter
We're in for a special treat today when Issa brings out some French truffles from the store room. He uses a ratio of 5% truffles for his truffle butter, made exclusively for Duncan Garvey from Perigord Truffles.
The sight of the generous truffle blanket is enough to make you weak at the knees. We sample the truffle butter later on fresh Alley Break sourdough and it takes me straight to my happy place. Forget truffle oils or salts. The brittle flakes of truffle in creamy waves of butter is where it's at.
Mixing the truffle butter and packing it into individual portions
The batch of butter we'd seen made today is only small. Usually production takes place in 160kg batches. Each week they go through 5,000 litres of cream. It takes 4 litres of cream to make one kilo of butter.
In addition to being handmade, Pepe Saya butter is not homogenised. Homogenisation means that water is suspended evenly through fat. The Pepe Saya butter has little bits of water through it - all part of the handmade charm.
Issa says that although there are many amazing French butters for sale on our shelves, he's proud of the fact that "my butter has never been frozen. It's still alive. But everyone has different tastes."
Merna Taouk of Homemade Fine Foods stamping the mini truffle butters into discs
And where does the name Pepe Saya come from? Issa says that Pepe was his childhood nickname, although there are two theories about its origin. One is his Scottish grandmother couldn't pronounce Pierre and called him Pepe instead. The other is that his father called him Pepe because he looked like a pelican waddling when he was in nappies. Issa laughs and says he thinks it's the latter. As for the Saya, he explains he had a vivid dream when someone was calling him Pepa Saya and when he woke up, he instantly knew he had the name for his business.
Pepa Saya cultured butter $7.50 for 225 grams
We move back into the retail area for tastings of butter, bread, cheeses and dessert. Issa slathers on the butter like it's cream cheese. "If you can't see your teeth marks after one bite then you haven't put enough on!" The butter is creamy and sweet with a slight tang.
Cheese sampling including the three year vintage cheddar from South Coast Cheese
and Homemade Fine Foods vanilla and raspberry pannacotta $3
Merna Taouk from Homemade Fine Foods plies us with desserts. We start with the vanilla and raspberry pannacotta, made with Country Valley cream and topped with Cuttaway Creek raspberries. Taouk establishes clear connections with her suppliers, and is determined to let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.
Issa holds up a raspberry and looks at it with pride. "I mean, look at this. Good food doesn't need to be messed with. It's all about this beautiful raspberry." His eyes shine.
Sticky date pudding $3.50 small
Sticky date pudding is usually the last thing I'd order on a dessert menu. Too often it's a factory-made mass-produced cake that's sickly sweet and drenched in syrup. Taouk's version will restore your faith in this classic. It's moist and squidgy and sweet from dates, not sugar. The butterscotch sauce will make your toes curl.
Bread and butter pudding $3.50 small
The humble bread and butter pudding is lifted to new levels of decadence here, using brioche, Country Valley cream, vanilla beans, sugar, nutmeg and raisins. No milk or eggs are used. It's ridiculously rich but oh so good.
Mixed berry crumble pudding $6.50 large
Vanilla pouring custard $6.50
Pepe Saya vanilla pouring custard is drizzled generously over all the desserts, including the mixed berry crumble fresh from the oven, tart with fresh fruit and covered with crumble and whole toasted almonds. The custard is made using Country Valley cream, free range eggs and vanilla beans. I was tempted to drink it straight from the bottle.
Fig and ginger pudding $3.50 small
We sample one of Taouk's newest products, a fig and ginger pudding that's in the final stages of recipe testing. Determining the right level of ginger has been a quandary, but as ginger fans we say, the more the better!
I ask Issa about future plans for Pepe Saya butter and he reveals he'll be launching a range of flavoured butters for seafood in conjunction with John Susman of fisheads and Kinkawooka Mussels. Of the butter flavours he mentions, I'm most interested in the sea urchin butter he has planned. Delicious!
Issa admits that it's been a long road. He almost threw in the towel several times. Coming up with new products can be difficult but "food is more than just money. You just have to make the best you can and set a price and hope it sells. If it doesn't, you move on." He's not willing to compromise on quality.
"I'm all about small batch and high quality. It's about good taste. We've taken the road less traveled and now it's paying off for us."
WHOLESALE FACTORY PRICES
(correct as at February 2012)
Salted and unsalted Butter 225gm $7.50
Vanilla pouring custard $6.50
Mascarpone 1kg $12.00
Creme Fraiche 1kg $12.00
Basil pesto 250gm $7.50
Tarama Paste 250gm $7.50
Yoghurt cloth-strained (very thick - probiotic) 1kg $12.00
Truffle Butter - Seasonal Winter Months - Price tba
Butter milk available to buy through Ester from Country Valley Dairy at the Eveleigh Markets
Pat and Stick's
Ice Cream Sandwich $4.00
Ice Cream Tubs $8.00
Booza Ice Cream Petit Fours (Tedy Altree)
Pack of Six $8.00
Pack of Twelve $12.00
Homemade Fine Foods (Chef Merna Taouk)
Vanilla and raspberry pannacotta small tub $3.00
Rice pudding small tub $3.50
Chocolate mousse small tub $3.00
Apple crumble and mixed berry crumble small $3.50 large $6.50
Bread and butter pudding, sticky date pudding, fig and ginger pudding small $3.50 large $6.50
Stewed rhubarb 1kg $19.00
Allspice stewed apples 1kg $12.00
The Stock Merchant (Ben Dutton)
Crab stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, chicken stock and chicken gravy
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Unit 4, 3 Wood Street, Tempe, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9519 2793
Monday to Friday 9am-5pm
Saturdays by appointment or if they happen to be working (call ahead to check)
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2/27/2012 03:16:00 a.m.