Words: Shamim de Brún
The late Ivan Allen, who with his wife Myrtle started and ran Ballymaloe House, shared an Irish saying with this alt-food zine: “When your teeth hit the bread, the butter better be hitting your gums.” and d’ya know what, it would want to be hitting your gums. That is how all bread should be treated. Lavishly.
In other words, a well-buttered piece of bread isn’t stretched. Butter should be profusely applied. As much as Italians put copious quantities of olive oil on everything, if not more. Some say the key to french cooking is butter; now imagine that but with Irish butter! Salivation centre.
Ireland is known for many things, but in the land of food, our delicious butter has conquered the globe. When people say, “Ireland has no food culture” I simply point at our butter and say ‘you’re wrong.’
If you’re a butter lover, there’s one place, in particular, you need to add to your bucket list: the Butter Museum in Shandon County Cork. Despite my fully realised love of butter, I only became aware of Cork’s Butter Museum because of Daddy’s Dublin story. Thanks, Daddys! After lamenting my failure as a butter-loving food journalist, I got to digging into it.
What is possibly the most culturally significant museum of all time is hidden like the gem of Amara in Cork’s historic Shandon neighbourhood. The museum is housed in an old creamery that dates back to the 1800s. It has been carefully restored to give visitors a glimpse into the history of butter-making in Ireland.
If ButterTok is anything to go by, there is an appetite out there among the health-crazed youth for quality butter, calories bedamned. Thank the butter gods!
The museum’s exhibits cover the shifting, changing and evolving butter production practices. From traditional methods of butter-churning to more streamlined modern methods of butter production and beyond. How many ways can you make butter? I want to know.
According to their website, if (when) you visit, you’ll learn about the different types of butter produced in Ireland. As well as the different tools and equipment used throughout the years. And, of course, the highlight of all highlights; you’ll get to sample some of the butter produced right there in the museum’s creamery. This is like distillery exclusives but for butter board enthusiasts.
But the Butter Museum isn’t just about the history and science of butter. It’s also a celebration of Ireland’s culture and tradition of butter-making. If you’re a food nerd, you’ll enjoy getting to learn about the role butter played in Irish society and economy. I mean we do have a bog butter that dates back to 3500 BCE. So butter has more significance to our societal evolution than the Catholic Church. So maybe that’s a hyperbolic stretch, but still.
It wouldn’t be a butter museum if you didn’t get to see the myriad of ways butter has been used in cooking and baking over the years. Would pay just to see how butter went from bogs to Kourtney Kardashians’ baking bowl alone.
One of the highlights of the museum is a visit to the ‘Butter Room’. A concept pulled from my notion of heaven. In this magical place you’ll get to your hand at making butter yourself. And of course, you’ll get to taste the results of your labour!
After you’ve toiled and become an expert butter maker and absorbed the whole history of the dairy’s most famous character, you get to hit up the museum’s café where you can sample some delicious Irish butter-based dishes like homemade scones and Irish butter cookies.
The Butter Museum is a must-visit for anyone who loves dairy dorks like yours truly. It’s a unique and fun way to experience a piece of Ireland’s rich culinary history. It’s open year-round and isn’t far from one of Cork’s many whiskey distilleries. So if you find yourself in the rebel county and you happen to be the designated driver, you know where to it up!
Elsewhere on CHAR: Dublin’s Ultimate Burger