I Can’t Believe It’s Butter That Was Buried in a Bog!


The bog butter bundle, after 18 months.
The bog butter bundle, after 18 months.

Seventeen months ago, Brian Kaller made a little more than three pounds of butter, wrapped it in cheesecloth and a kitchen towel, tied the package together with bright blue rope, and buried it in the bog behind his house in the Irish countryside. This summer, as the bog became lush, he dug the butter up.

The package was almost black with muck, but when Kaller pulled back the coverings, the butter smelled fine—not even a little rancid. It appeared to have darkened slightly, to a deeper yellow, but otherwise looked about as it had when he had buried it more than a year before.

The only thing left to do was taste it.

Boglands have surprisingly powerful preservative potential.
Boglands have surprisingly powerful preservative potential.

For thousands of years people have been burying butter under the spongy surface of boglands, where organic matter doesn’t rot as it does elsewhere. There’s little oxygen in the bog’s depths to feed mold and other decomposers, and the decaying peat that makes up the bogs creates compounds that help preserve anything buried in them. Ireland’s bogs have produced millennia-old “bog bodies” (startlingly well preserved human remains), and ancient bog butter is discovered with some regularity. These large chunks of butter or beef tallow might be 2,000, 3,000, even 5,000 years old, and they are usually still (technically) edible, though they’re said to have a sharp, cheese-like smell.

Why would Ireland’s ancient people bury giant chunks of butter? As a calorie-rich food, butter was valuable, and it’s possible that these troves of fat were meant to help stave off famine. Some students of the Irish past, though, believe that bog butter was sometimes meant as an offering to a now-forgotten god.

Kaller’s family is Irish, but he grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He has an interest in self-sufficient living, and when he moved back to Ireland, to his wife’s family land, he started studying and writing about older ways to make and preserve food. His family lives on about an acre of land, along one of the canals that was once used to transport dried turf, used for heat, to Dublin, and they keep chickens, bees, and a garden in…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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