Sweet butter is not literally sweet. In essence, it is “a type of unsalted butter made from fresh pasteurized cream,” as specified in the Oxford English Dictionary. Most often, these are the sticks of butter you will find at the supermarket which are labeled as “unsalted butter,” but in reality, when a butter is called sweet butter, it pertains to the use of fresh sweet cream during the butter production and not the salt content.
The use of the pasteurized cream is important as it helps determine the variety used in the manufacture of butter. According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, there are two types of butter obtainable in the U.S. market. First is the one made from sweet cream or called as sweet cream butter and in the form of lightly salted, unsalted and whipped. On the other hand, cultured cream butter has a richer flavor and originally used in European butters.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grading scheme used in butters, the ones labeled as U.S. Grade AA are described as having a “delicate, sweet flavor, with a fine, highly pleasing aroma,” is made from ” high-quality fresh, sweet cream,” has a “smooth, creamy texture with good “spreadability,” and “may possess a slight feed and a definite cooked flavor.”
In the U.S., sweet butter is similar to unsalted butter. A tip from the USDA indicates that “unsalted butter may be labeled “sweet” or “unsalted” butter.” The same applies also to Canada, which identifies sweet butter as such: it is “also labelled “unsalted butter”, sweet butter is the same as churned butter but made without any added salt. Sweet butter doesn’t stay fresh as long as salted butter so should be used soon after purchase.”
With that differentiation in mind, the use of sweet butter would depend on the dish you are making. Generally speaking, sweet butter can be employed in both baking and cooking. Just read the label if you opt to cook with unsalted or salted butter and use the butter as indicated in the recipe.
Dishes that benefit from the use of butter in cooking include the Hollandaise sauce, béchamel sauce and during stir-fries or pan-frying. When baking, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies, pecan sandies, and simple butter-centered cookies and cakes would bring out the optimal flavor and depth of the sweet butter. The all-butter pie crust (also known as pate brisee) should also be part of the list. So buy the best that you can.