Hard questions on Canadian butter: What’s going on?

There is a widespread perception that blocks of butter now, left at room temperature, do not get soft, as butter traditionally does. What's going on? | Getty Images

Foodies and home cooks across Canada have been chattering about Canadian butter and why it’s often so hard these days. Some toast butterers are fuming.

(Look on Twitter and Facebook  to see just how many people are becoming engaged with this issue. It’s one of those “talkers” that gets people going.)

There is a widespread perception that blocks of butter now, left at room temperature, do not get soft, as butter traditionally does.

What’s going on?

A lot of people are pointing the finger at palm oil being used as a supplement in dairy rations. Apparently it’s a common practice to boost the butterfat yield, and to help producers fulfill their quota obligations. There’s been lots of pressure in the past year to produce more milk fats to feed burgeoning parts of the consumer economy that have turned to much more home cooking during the lockdowns.

Others think it might be something at the processing level. Or with modern cows.

I did a story touching on the issue for this week’s edition. You can find it here.

Since then there has been a growing body of commentary suggesting that palm oil is the author of the butterfat crisis.

It’s a weird story. The Dairy Farmers of Canada hasn’t said much about it, even though it’s becoming a nationally-discussed story, especially in Quebec. You can find their most recent statement here.

One thing seems obvious: this situation needs to be cleared up quickly, because this kind of publicity, with upset consumers saying they’re upset with the butter they’re getting or turning to margarine in frustration, is poisonous for the hard-won reputation of Canadian dairy products being top quality, consumer-focused commodities. The industry spends a lot of time, attention and money to winning support from consumers and it can’t be allowed to be jeopardized by whatever’s going on here. A reputation for high-quality, safe products takes years and decades to build up. Seeing that undermined by a product quality (not safety!) issue isn’t something any dairy farmer is willing to accept.

 

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