Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Montpellier Butter

The Making of Butter. Digital ID: 95057. New York Public Library

I subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary's RSS feed (hey, I'm a librarian!), and so everyday I potentially learn a new word, and hopefully, improve my vocabulary. The other day the OED Word-of-the-Day was Montpellier, as in n. "the name of a town in the department of HĂ©rault in southern France." Henceforth comes Montpellier Maple, Montpellier Yellow (or Turner's Yellow), and Montpellier Butter.

I had never heard of Montpellier butter before. But its official definition sounds very appealing: "n. Cookery butter flavoured and coloured green with a mixture of shallots, gherkin, mixed herbs, and hard-boiled egg, and usually served with fish." With a little more research on Google Books, I found quite a few mentions of Montpellier butter, and its affinity with fish, but also its adaptability to other dishes as well.

For example, Escoffier writes - in a Guide to Modern Cookery - "The only butter fit to be served with cold salmon is Montpellier butter." He adds that the butter can be added to the sides of the fish with a piping bag, "fitted with a small grooved pipe" for decoration.

Isabella Beeton, in the Book of Household Management, spreads Montpellier butter on toast, which she then tops with a hard-boiled egg and aspic.

Elizabeth David also finds the marriage between Montpellier butter and eggs to be very appealing. In French Provincial Cooking, David writes that although the butter tastes particularly wonderful with fish, both cold and grilled, "a teaspoon of Montpellier butter added to eggs en cocotte is also very delicious."

And in the Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffé serves Montpellier butter over rice, and with calves' brains.

But the most vivid description I read of a dish involving Montpellier butter is from a New York Times article in 1871, reporting on the Ball and Supper of the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique. The author described the food served, and its presentation, in the following way: "Salmon which, when alive, might have been credited with tremendous leaps, could never have overskipped the high and ornamental walls of richest Montpellier butter surrounding it."

I'm sold.


Barbara said...

I a have just returned from Montpellier and I can attest to the quality of the butter - in fact to the quality of anything made with Montpellier butter.
Blessed with natural grazing lands and the best dairies in the south of France, it is hard to argue for a more ideal culinary environment.
But as often the case, Montpellier can also boast of wonderful wines since the city is located in Languedoc-Roussillon.

Betty C. said...

Fascinating post. I live only two hours from Montpellier but have never heard of Montpellier butter!

I love your research...maybe I should have been a librarian. It was one career I considered...

Deborah Dowd said...

Montpellier butter is really fascinating.I had never heard of it,but am going to check it out!A very happy new year to you!

Jeremy said...

Jeremiah Tower has a great long recipe for this in "Jeremiah Tower Cooks" and in his first cookbook too I believe.