Bog Butter Anyone?

Bog Butter, Smithsonian

Recently, Jack Conway was “cutting turf,” the term for digging up blocks of moss in Emlagh peat bog in County Meath, Ireland, when he discovered a 22-pound lump of butter. The find, believed to be 2,000 years old, according to the Irish Times, isn’t an unusual occurrence in Ireland, where every year, people digging up peat moss to heat their homes encounter chunks of the dairy.

The discoveries, which are called Bog Butter, can be thousands of years old. In 2009, a 77-pound, 3,000-year-old oak barrel of the stuff was found in County Kildare. In 2013, a turf cutter in County Offaly found a 100-pound, 5,000-year-old chunk. Many examples of the butter are found in Irish museums, including the place dedicated to the golden spread, Cork’s Butter Museum.

So what is Bog Butter? It’s exactly what it sounds like—butter made from cow’s milk, buried in a bog. What makes it special is its age. After spending so much time in the cool, damp peat, it starts to take on the appearance and consistency of paraffin wax. According to a study on bog butter by researchers from the University of Bristol, some of the chunks are non-dairy. When analyzing carbon isotopes in nine samples of the butter, they found that six of them were indeed dairy products, while the other three were from animals, perhaps tallow (rendered fat) stored for later use.

In a paper published in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood explains that bog butter is usually found in earthenware pots, wooden containers, animal skins, or wrapped in bark and takes on a pungent, cheesy odor. Looking at over 274 instances of bog butter from the Iron Age to medieval times, Earwood concluded that early Celtic people probably sunk the butter in the bog simply to preserve it or protect from thieves. The cool, low-oxygen, high acid environment of the bog made a perfect natural refrigerator. Seeing as butter was a valuable commodity and was used to pay taxes, saving it for times of drought, famine, or war would have been a good idea … read more –>  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/…

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