Pass On European Butter For Your Grilled Cheese

The quest for the ultimate grilled cheese has led foodies down a maze of gruyere, fontina, pepper jack, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, and more. And yet there remains another tragically-overlooked ingredient that's crucial to executing the humble majesty of the grilled cheese sammy — butter. Namely, whether to use European or American butter. 

It might seem tempting, but when you're whipping up a grilled cheese, take a pass on that fancy European butter. Visibly, European butter tends to be yellower than American butter, but it's also fundamentally different. The USDA requires 80% butterfat content, so that's what most American brands typically tend to pack. European butter, on the other hand, clocks in somewhere around the 82-90% range, creating a marginally richer flavor and more spreadable texture. European butter is also churned longer, and sometimes even infused with live active cultures like yogurt. All of this may make European butter sounds like a more alluring and luxurious choice for your comfort food snack.

But the truth is, to make a good grilled cheese sandwich, European butter really isn't necessary. In this case, the butter is more about functionality than flavor. It's what makes the outside fry to a golden crisp, but the bread itself, along with your choice of cheese, mayo, and whatever other toppings you might use are going to do the heavy lifting flavor-wise. In short: European butter is for finishing dishes and showcasing on muffins and toast, not necessarily for cooking with.

Save the fancy butter for other dishes

To illustrate the difference, consider the olive oil duo from Graza. There's a large "Sizzle" bottle, and a substantially smaller bottle labeled "Drizzle." That's because, you want the top-notch product for finishing dishes, and you don't need a whole lot of it. It's the same deal with European and American butter. It's probably no surprise, then, that fancy butter comes at a substantially higher price point. At a Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn, New York, a pound of store-brand butter runs for $3.99, versus $4.79 for a half pound of Irish Kerrygold. 

Indeed, there are times when European is worth the splurge, but in the case of the grilled cheese, American butter will do just fine. There's a pretty good chance that most of the good stuff will get lost in the skillet, so don't bother wasting the good stuff.

American butter offers a more utilitarian, neutral flavor — which gets the job done, but isn't going to impart any sort of spectacular impact in the flavor department. Still, shelling out for European butter is not the answer for extra flavor. If you're really itching to amp up your grilled cheese, try using salted butter, or even whip up a homemade compound butter infused with herbs and spices to spread on your sandwich post-grill.