Bog Butter: Returning to Tradition
In June, Brian Kaller walked to the edge of the Bog of Allen, just behind his house in County Kildare, took 100 paces forward, 100 paces to the right, and began to look for a bright blue rope he had tied to a tree 17 months earlier. It took him two tries, but he eventually spotted the rope through the overgrown surface of the bog and started digging. After about five feet, he uncovered what he sought – a tightly bound parcel, wrapped in a kitchen towel and cheese paper, containing three pounds of bog-aged butter, a little yellowed and smelling faintly of parmesan, and perfectly edible.
In conducting this little experiment, Kaller, who grew up in St. Louis but whose family is Irish, was following in the millennia-old tradition of using the bogs to preserve food, likely as a safe-guard against famine. The peat bogs prevent oxygen from reaching too far down, allowing for an ideal environment for the preservation of organic materials. Bundles of bog butter have been discovered that date back at least 5,000 years, in addition to the famed “bog bodies” occasionally discovered in states of arrested decay.
“It’s still recognizably butter. It tastes a little different. My friend described it as ‘earthy.’” Kaller told Atlas Obscura, noting that he uses it to fry eggs and melt over popcorn. “It’s not something I think most people would eat regularly,” he says, “but if you were hungry, I think you’d happily eat it.” ♦