One of the more wholesome side effects of coronavirus-induced isolation has been the surge in popularity of home breadmaking. With millions stuck at home, kitchens (and thus social-media feeds) the world over have become filled with bread recipes, crusty loaves and ironically named sourdough starters.
I have to confess I’ve shamelessly jumped on this bandwagon, with my trusty starter Clint Yeastwood providing both sustenance and a useful distraction while I’m cooped up.
With all the time and effort people are putting into baking their own bread, it stands to reason that they’d be paying more attention to what they spread on their homemade creations. Sarah Aubault, the French-born founder of the small, family-run company Devoted Artisan Butter certainly hopes so.
“Good butter is like cheese – you can’t taste it straight from the fridge,” says Sarah. “As soon as the butter is at room temperature it starts to sweat, and when you cut a slice you can see the layering inside – this is where the flavour comes from.”
Incorporating locally produced ingredients, including Lake Deborah salt, ethically sourced lemon myrtle and Carnarvon-grown smoked paprika (along with some imported Japanese kombu seaweed), Devoted’s butter is a far cry from the mass-produced stuff that most Australians are spreading on their toast.
With a total weekly output of only 100 250-gram blocks, Sarah, her husband Pierre and their three children – who help with production – are focused on quality over quantity.
The family are from Saint-Malo in Brittany, a city that’s home to world famous butter producer Le Beurre Bordier. Pierre is a third generation baker who inherited a large family business from his father. However, he’s also a keen surfer and windsurfer, so in 2009 the couple made the decision to sell up and relocate to Perth where he could indulge these passions more easily. “It’s sunny and windy and he can windsurf after work,” says Sarah.
After a number of years finding their feet in their respective fields (Sarah is an architect, Pierre a baker) the couple opened Marie Antoinette – a French-influenced cafe-patisserie on Napoleon Street in Cottesloe that they ran for three years before selling in December 2015.
The butter production started out as a hobby Pierre undertook to give the family and their French ex-pat friends a little taste of home. The idea to turn it into a business didn’t occur until their teenage daughter started asking for pocket money in early 2019.
“I said to her, ‘No, at your age you have to start to work,’” says Sarah. Devoted Artisan Butter was born. “[The name’s] linked to our story, for the kids to be devoted to work, to be committed to something.”
The business launched in November 2019, operating out of the incubator kitchen at Fremantle’s Sunshine Harvester Works. The family work together for four hours every Tuesday evening to produce the range of handmade butter.
The cream – which is specially sourced from a secret producer near Bunbury, and which Sarah says plays a key role in creating a product that tastes like the one she grew up with in Saint-Malo – is first churned in a large electric mixer. From there, every step of the process is performed by hand.
Muslin cloths are used to squeeze out excess moisture and then the butter is weighed into 1.4-kilo blocks. For the salted and flavoured varieties, the extra ingredients are then kneaded into the butter.
Once mixed, the blocks are put in the fridge to cool for an hour or so before being divided into 250-gram portions and hand-slapped with special wooden butter paddles – a traditional French process that determines the texture and intensifies the flavour by removing excess air and water.
There are four varieties in the core range – natural, slightly salted, lemon myrtle and seaweed – but the Aubaults have plans to incorporate other high-quality local ingredients (such as truffles and organic garlic) into limited-edition blocks.
While Sarah maintains that the best way to enjoy their butter is simply slathered onto some good-quality fresh bread, it can also be used to great effect in the kitchen.
The rich, umami-laden seaweed butter pairs well with red meat and salmon (chuck a lump of it onto a freshly grilled rib eye and allow it to melt) while the subtle flavours of the lemon-myrtle variety work well with delicate seafood such as scallops. The current special release – a smoked-paprika butter – is great for adding depth of flavour and an extra kick to hearty soups and stews.
Find Devoted Artisan Butter at The Boatshed in Cottesloe, The Herdsman in Churchlands, Weir’s Butchers in Nedlands, The Black Pig Deli in Inglewood and stalls at the Mount Claremont and Subiaco farmers markets.