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Our Messed-Up Relationship with Food Has a Long History. It Started with Butter.

Have you ever eaten butter by the spoon? Butter without toast to prop it up or eggs to fry in it — butter for its own tangy, full-flavored, exquisite sake?

Elaine Khosrova does this, not infrequently. She warms a variety of types to room temperature, gets a glass of water to clear her palate between rounds and pries delicately at her subjects with scientific curiosity, observing how the different textures yield to her knife. Seven types of butter are in front of her today, made from cow, sheep and goat cream, ranging from a sunny gold to a soft, bridal white.

“You see how totally cohesive this is?” she says, prying at the first and mildest sample, a sweet cow butter made in New Zealand by a brand called Anchor. She slides a slab of the thick, pale yellow Anchor onto her spoon.

The author of “Butter: A Rich History,” Khosrova has worked as a pastry chef, at a restaurant trade journal, in a magazine test kitchen and as the editor of a cheese magazine, and she has researched the history of butter going back to the Stone Age. The resident of Hudson Valley, N.Y., has made it her job to know the differences between conventional and grass-fed, between sweet and cultured (fermented with live cultures). She can explain how tender springtime grass creates butter that’s more yellow (it’s from the beta carotene in the plants), and, when she’s tasting, pick out the diacetyl (that quintessential buttery flavor) and the lactones (they impart a sweetness, she says). She is, in short, a butter savant in a country coming around to butter again.