Yen for flavored butter

Monday, July 17, 2006

As corporate chef at the Denver Chophouse, John Hubschman liked to serve honey butter with corn bread and Wild Turkey bourbon butter with his porterhouse steak. But he and the other chefs had to make their own flavored butters. It occurred to him that other cooks might like the idea if they could find a ready-made product. In 2004, he quit his job at the Chophouse and began experimenting with a product line of his own. His first success was wild blueberry and, before the year was over, his line had expanded to 25 flavors. That year his company, Epicurean Butter, sold 14,000 sticks at two high-end grocers. This year they expect to sell 500,000 sticks in stores throughout the continental U.S. Janey Hubschman, the company's vice president, credits the product's success with its unique niche. They use grade AA unsalted butter from Westpoint Dairy in Nebraska and add herbs, fruits and spices to produce sweet and savory flavors such as honey pecan and wasabi ginger. "We have come up with an item that nobody was making or selling retail," Janey Hubschman said. Chefs throughout the metro area add Epicurean's butters to their dishes, and 12 flavors are produced under private labels for specialty retailers. Another 13 flavors are available at retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats, Longmont-based The Cheese Importers and, since May, Super Target. Safeway Lifestyle stores will begin stocking the products later this month. The butter comes in two sizes - 3 1/2 ounces for $3.99 and 6 ounces for $6.99. Chris Boyle, the Whole Foods Rocky Mountain regional coordinator, has been working closely with the company to unveil six new flavors this month - honey orange, porcini sage, chardonnay shallot, scampi butter, Tuscan herb and black truffle. "It's a great product," Boyle said. "It tastes fantastic." His customers also report liking it well enough to buy it again. John Johnson, an instructor for the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University's Denver campus, said flavored butters are similar to infused oils, which have been popular for several years. "You see basil-infused olive oil," Johnson said. "This is a similar concept using butter. "Anything that can enhance your dining experience at home and save you time, I think the general consumer is going to go for." Patrick Funk, sous chef at the Ameristar Casino in Black Hawk, said he uses Epicurean Butter in the contemporary-cuisine dishes he serves in the casino's Star Club restaurant. It adds distinctive flavor and "uncomparable gloss to sauces," he said. Funk also serves it as a spread with fresh-baked breads, favoring the honey walnut, tomato chipotle and orange coconut flavors. "It definitely meets our quality expectations." The company thought the original sweet flavors were going to be hits. In reality, Janey Hubschman said, "the savory flavors were much more popular." Staff writer Ameera Butt can be reached at 303-820-1233 or