I measure my cooking life in terms of butter.
My life began with Country Crock spread. I’m not saying that it’s right, but I’m not going to act like I knew any better. There was nowhere to go but up. My mom stored leftovers and takeaways in the tubs that once held pale yellow swirls of spreadable, straight-from-the fridge partially hydrogenated oils. When I started cooking in middle school, I learned about Land O’ Lakes butter sticks from my Granny, who never purchased any other brand. Then when I got serious about this cooking thing, I learned there was delicious Irish butter, transcendent French butter, and that I could actually make butter at home by vigorously shaking whole fat cream in a mason jar. And then came compound butters.
My first compound butter arrived at the table on top of a steak, melting, and making one of my favorite foods that much better. What was this alchemy? To me, “compound butter” sounds like more than what it is—essentially other ingredients, usually herbs or spices, whipped into butter—and pretty soon, I was making my own: fresh parsley, garlic and rosemary, and even cumin and chili powder, but I’ll admit it was all special occasion stuff. Maybe it was self-worth, maybe it was laziness, but whatever it was, there was never a compound butter for me, just me, for those days when I’m standing in my kitchen in a bourbon t-shirt and pajama pants, waiting for the toast to pop up.
On the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama is the booming town of Florence. Florence is a little place with a big mindset, in large part because of Natalie Chanin, designer and tastemaker turned factory owner and changemaker. And not only did she bring more industry to the region with Alabama Chanin, at the Factory Store + Cafe she developed the compound butter that has transformed my toast forever. It’s so simple it’s silly, but salt and pepper butter is all it takes to bring breakfast to another level.
Smear this compound butter on toast then top with strawberry jam, slap some in the pan for eggs in a hole, or place a pat on your grits. This better butter is not only delicious, it saves a step fussing with those pesky salt and pepper shakers, and no one needs that.
“It was one of the first recipes Natalie and team developed, and we use it on all the bread we toast,” says Chef Ray Nichols, executive chef of The Factory Store + Cafe. The restaurant bakes ciabatta daily, and each piece is slathered with the butter then toasted to a crispy, brown perfection in a cast iron skillet.
“It also can be used on saltine crackers that are then baked until golden brown, giving you a delicious upgrade to your typical saltine,” he explains. So breakfast butter makes an easy move to happy hour, courtesy of Chef Nichols. Country Crock never saw this one coming.
Note: It’s fine to get fancy with pink Himalayan salt, white pepper, sea salt, or even freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns, but it’s not a necessity. Simple will work just fine.
The Factory Cafe Compound Butter
Combine all ingredients in a mixer with the paddle attachment and beat until well combined and fluffy. Put into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Smear on all things breakfast and beyond.
Stephanie Burt is the host of The Southern Fork podcast.