Calgary·FOOD AND THE CITY

Cultured Butter brings sweet, spicy and savoury spreads to Calgary

It was a taste of real cultured butter — a tangy, intensely buttery butter made with cream and active bacterial cultures (like yogurt) and imported from France —that made Kristie Lee realize Calgary's local butter supply was lacking.

Owner leaves oil and gas industry to open butter business in Hillhurst Sunnyside

Kristie Lee has just left the oil and gas industry to get into the butter business, bringing with her real cultured butter infused with herbs, spices and even bacon. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

It was a taste of real cultured butter — a tangy, intensely buttery butter made with cream and active bacterial cultures (like yogurt) and imported from France — that made Kristie Lee realize Calgary's local butter supply was lacking.

 After searching for similar products (Canada imports very little butter, and has fewer local options than most countries), Lee decided to try churning her own. 

The result was so delicious — and the process so much fun — that she decided to leave the oil and gas business and get into the butter business.

Lee samples her churned, cultured butter at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers' Market every Wednesday. (Cultured Butter/Facebook)

Lee chose the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers' Market as her location because, as members of the Noble Gardens Community Supported Agriculture, she was at the market every week anyway to pick up her share of fresh, local produce.

She figured if no one else wanted to buy her butter, at least her fellow shareholders and the vendors she got to know might. 

But after only her third week in business selling hockey puck-sized slabs of parchment-wrapped butter, it was a clear hit. 

Sourced locally

Cultured Butter doesn't have a website yet, and her business cards are not yet made, but it doesn't matter. 

Lee lets everyone who comes by her sparsely elegant table taste her creations, thickly spread on small bites of good bread – the plain sprinkled with sea salt, one spiked with chilis and garlic, another with bacon and chives, and a fourth spiced with cinnamon and cardamom and sweetened with honey. 

Lee's butters are a combination of spicy, savoury and sweet, and come individually wrapped in hockey puck-sized portions. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

All are inspired by and sourced from the market. 

"Dan had chives," she said of one of her neighbouring vendors, "and they were so pretty, they just went in, flowers and all. And the Tomato Man had chilies, so that's how those get made." 

Even the salt comes from Vancouver Island.

Using only grass-fed cows

Lee gets most of her cream from Rock Ridge Dairy in Ponoka, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton. 

Since they don't have a large enough supply for her to source exclusively from their grass-fed cows, she makes up the rest from other Alberta farms. 

"We learned a lot about the dairy business and quotas," she said. 

"We culture it for about 24 hours, and the culture eats up the lactose, turning it into lactic acid, which is what makes it taste so beautiful."

Lee — along with her son Ethan, who helps out sometimes in the kitchen and at the market — is hoping to expand to supply local retailers.

Ethan, Kristie Lee's son, also enjoys experimenting with new flavour combinations in the kitchen. (Julie van Rosendaal)

For the moment, Lee is playing with ingredients and navigating her new business, churning butter one day to sell at the market the next. 

You'll find her under her 'Cultured' sign at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Farmers' Market every Wednesday afternoon from 3 to 7 p.m., and at the new Urban Market at Last Best brew pub Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until July 17.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.