Once upon a time Grant Harrington tasted a butter so superior he vowed there and then to return home and learn to make it himself.
Five years later his butter Ampers&nd now features at numerous Michelin starred restaurants with 34 stars between them, this week alone taking orders from 19 of them.
From Le Manoir to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, it is Grant’s butter that is adorning the top dining tables in the land, and it’s all down to his total obsession with butter, and his sometimes bewildering journey to get there.
he wrote to Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay – the only famous chefs he knew, asking for a job
Indeed, Looking around him at his new premises in Bloxham, Grant Harrington’s story is as impressive as anything he produces.
Because the 27 year old gave up a job as a top chef in one of the worlds best restaurants to pursue his dream, cashing in every penny he had and withdrawing to a shed in Bicester until he had developed the very best conceivable butter.
It took me a year to talk Raymond Blanc round
A year later, having tested every milk, cream, and experimented time and time again with bacteria and the fermenting process, he slowly developed his craft after narrowing his findings down to two breeds of cows – Jersey and Guernsey – until he was finally happy with his definitive product.
The result is Ampers&nd, which he fed me with a fork. The refined, distinct, delicious, yellow, creamy texture with its salty finish certainly validates the blind faith and hard work he has put in. Resembling a flavour and colour of butter not seen since the old days, before it was mass manufactured, Grant, it seems, has struck gold.
“My first job was to get the butter ready for the dinner service, and that was that. I still remember tasting it for the first time. It was a lightbulb moment yes”
It means that the dairy farmers around Tewksbury and The Cotswolds from whom Grant sources his precious cream from, are also seeing their fortunes revived.
Now producing 168kg of butter a week, with a cookbook Bread & Butter under his belt, and plans to expand into fudge and ice lollies made with the with the buttermilk byproduct, he is on a roll.
But five years ago, when just aged 22, things were very different. Having been brought up near Hinkley in Leicestershire, Grant left school and unsure of what to do with his life, did a ski season instead and got into cheffing that way.
Three seasons later he wrote to Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, the only famous chefs he knew, asking for a job, finally landing one at Maze. It was a one starred Michelin restaurant then.
Churning the butter by hand, he remembers the cabin rocking as he worked
So was that as “challenging’ as one has come to expect? “Gordon wasn’t there much, but yes – we did 18 hour shifts five days a week.
“I thought that was normal and I had a good work ethic but it was still difficult. It took me two years to realise not everywhere was run like that.”
Working his way up from commis to chef de partie, he then went travelling with a fellow work mate, and applied for jobs anywhere he could ski. Magnus Nilsson at Fäviken in Sweden, the 14th best restaurant in the world, answered his call, and the rest is history.
“I learnt so much there, in such a short space of time, because they used ancient methods despite their modern approach. It was about simple food using the best produce.
“My first job was to get the butter ready for the dinner service, and that was that. I still remember tasting it for the first time. It was a lightbulb moment yes. I had never tasted anything like it,” he remembers.
“It’s all used for serving with bread and butter although the Chiltern Firehouse uses it to make their truffle pasta.”
He had to learn to make it himself, and so his quest began.
Luckily Grant’s brother had recently moved to a farm in Bicester and it was here that he set up and where the testing, fermenting and testing again. Churning it by hand, he remembers the cabin rocking as he worked.
When happy with the product, he loaded it onto his van, bought with the last of his savings, and drove around the top London restaurants begging the head chefs to try it. “I’m not much of a salesman so just left the butter to talk for itself,” he says.
Grant’s love of food hails from his grandmothers, learning to bake and pickle with them using produce grown on the family allotment. Like so many chefs before him, this harboured a deep rooted love of food that has stayed wit him.
So what is he most proud of. getting my butter into three starred Michelin restaurants, he says. But the icing on the cake was Le Manoir.
“It took me a year to talk Raymond Blanc round. I kept visiting Le Manoir and executive head chef Gary Jones came on board. But Raymond was adamant the French made the best butter. So we reached a compromise and he serves both.”
Let me get this right- when you go to Le Manoir you are served two butters, one French and one English – Grant’s? “Yes!” Grant grins, “although I have it on good authority that mine gets eaten first.” And he laughs again.
His new premises in Bloxham, which he moved to last month, will also make a big difference. He has finally been able to afford some proper equipment as well, meaning he no longer needs to churn it by hand, although each portion is individually packaged and weighed by hand.
“It’s all used for serving with bread and butter although the Chiltern Firehouse uses it to make their truffle pasta.
“Helene Darroze at The Connaught asked us to make her some unsalted butter specially, and we couldn’t really say no, but otherwise I prefer salted.”
Those of us who fancy a bit of Ampers&nd at home can purchase it from 2 North Parade in North Oxford.
As for the future, is Grant confident such a luxury product will survive in this uncertain climate? “We have a good carbon footprint compared with importing butter from abroad and people want to care about their food more and its provenance, so I’m dying to make my own milk collective, but that will take time.
“Keeping it fair is very important to me and I hope if anything good comes out of this political mess it will be looking at what we can produce here in England”
“Ultimately it would be great if we supplied Waitrose or somewhere like, but otherwise just nice farm shops and cheese shops, delis would be great.
“Either way, this is exactly what I set out to do and I’m loving every step of the way.”
For more info go to butterculture.bigcartel.com
The cookbook Bread & Butter is available at Waterstones Oxford