By Stephanie Rosenbaum
Photos by Stacy Ventura
Vegans love their coconut oil. Omnivores swear by lard (from pasture-raised local pigs, of course). Isn’t it time for butter to get some praise in the kitchen, too?
But some butter is better than other butter, and thanks to Ancient Organics in West Berkeley, you can butter up your diet in a better way with locally made ghee. Start by trying their Gheenola, a toasty, nutty, maple-sesame granola made with organic ghee instead of the vegetable oils typically found in most granolas. It’s the latest addition to the company’s product line of plain and herb- and spice-infused ghees, all made by hand from Straus Family Creamery’s local, organic butter.
Ghee is what Ancient Organics founder and Ayurvedic practitioner Peter Malakoff calls “the essence of butter,” a pure fat that cooks like oil but has the subtly nutty taste of brown butter. Each batch is slow-cooked for several hours to caramelize the milk solids and evaporate out the water, creating a long-lasting, versatile product that can cook at high heat without burning or breaking down.
It’s a luxurious staple of Indian cooking, part of the subcontinent’s cuisine for over 5,000 years, and a central ingredient in the food-based medicinal practices of Ayurveda. Still, ghee isn’t just for dhals and curries. In a nod to the Bay Area’s love of Italian flavors, Ancient Organics now offers Savory Mediterranean, a ghee that’s infused with basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Greg Glass, the company’s head of product development, suggests warming it as a dip for focaccia or as a drizzle over ravioli. Chai Spice ghee could almost double as a luscious body butter, scented like a Zanzibar breeze with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, and black pepper. Meanwhile, the Niter Kebbeh ghee captures the kitchen of your favorite Ethiopian restaurant in a jar, each mouthwatering whiff pungent with onions, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, turmeric, and cardamom.
After outgrowing the shared facilities of the Artisan Kitchen in Richmond, Ancient Organics found a new home in West Berkeley in May, taking over the space at Allston Way and Fourth Street that formerly housed Vic’s Chaat House. Owner and head ghee-maker Matteo Girard Maxon has plans to add a café and fully appointed shop in the future; right now, while there isn’t an official retail space, customers can drop in whenever the facility is in production and buy the products directly off the shelves. Move over, truffle oil: popcorn just got a brand-new best friend.
Ancient Organics products are available online and at the production facility, as well as at Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods, and the Marin Civic Center Farmers’ Market. Ancient Organics, 726 Allston Way, Berkeley; https://www.ancientorganics.com/
Pictured on left in the Ancient Organics kitchen is owner Matteo Girard Maxon. He makes and sells the ghee and Gheenola with the help of Erik Reed (right) and Greg Glass (not pictured). Founder Peter Malakoff is away in India.
Stephanie Rosenbaum is a longtime Bay Area food writer and the author of The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press), Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams-Sonoma), and Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books). She blogs for Bay Area Bites on KQED.org as well as on her own site, Adventures of the Pie Queen, piequeen(at)blogspot(dot)com.
Stacy Ventura is a food photographer based in Marin County. Her work has been featured in Food & Wine, Food Arts, San Francisco magazine, and the Edible Communities publications. When not taking pictures she can be found tending to her small flock of chickens.