We adore alliteration around here, so bog butter gets extra points for it’s alliterative name. But, what is it?
You may have heard earlier this year that a 22-pound chunk of the churched dairy product was dug up in Ireland. But, finding bog butter happens far more often than you might think. There are hundreds in museums across Ireland and the UK. They are found submerged in peat bogs in Ireland and Scotland. When folks go out to harvest peat to use a fuel for fires they may end up with bonus bog butter which was laid down in the peat bog hundreds or thousands of years ago.
A peat bog.
No one is quite certain why folks felt a need to submerge butter in the peaty swamp, but considering the practice seems to have begun at least around 1,500 BCE and continued into the 17th century, it is reasonable to assume that people did it for different reasons as the times changed. The practice was spread (see what I did there) throughout cultures in the north, from Ireland to Mongolia.
Bronze Age Irish may have done it as a ritual sacrifice, but later, in the early Middle Ages, butter was accepted as a way to pay taxes, so those folks might have stored it in the bogs for safe keeping (or to avoid paying taxes?) Some historians have theorized that there may even have been time the butter was hidden ahead of raids. See, the peat bogs are cool, low in oxygen, and high in acid, making them nature’s refrigerators.
I mean, I look at it and I certainly think “Let’s chuck stuff in there.”
Bog butters have been found wrapped in animal skin or stuck instead wooden vessels.
Some of the globs of fatty spread have been tested and it was determined that most bog butter is indeed animal milk (as opposed to beef tallow or such). So, people are storing it. And testing it. We know what you’re thinking…are they TASTING it?! Sort of.
It is, apparently after all this time, edible, but the experts say it is not really advisable to dip into this dated dairy. However, there are some folks who have made bog butter. People lucky enough to live near peat bogs and have a surfeit of time and curiosity have plunged their buttery blobs into bogs and left them for various amounts of times. Which has lead to another insight…people might have done this to chemically change the flavor of the butter on purpose. Folks who have made and sampled bog butter describe the taste as being like aged cheese, or tasting “mossy”, or like “salami” depending on how long the butter bathed in bog juice.
If you’ve got the time, you can check out one such experiment here: https://tinyurl.com/y2aabgtn
Whether aged 6 months or 600 years, it is safe to say this dairy delicacy won’t be showing up on grocery shelves. More’s the pity. We’d love to at least try some Kerry’OLD.
Get more great content! Subscribe to Renaissance Magazine!