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2000–year–old bog butter anyone?

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2000–year–old bog butter anyone?
Photo Ian Taylor

Foodies are adventurous types, so who would like to volunteer to try some 2000–year–old bog butter then, possibly lathered on warm sourdough or in a cacio e pepe, the Roman pasta dish of butter, pepper and cheese?

Why do we ask? Well, as reported by Atlas Obscura, a turf cutter in County Meath, Ireland recently discovered a 10kg lump of bog butter – and it may still be edible (though that may not be advisable according to The Irish Times). The Cavan County Museum has estimated its age as close to 2000 years; after so long however, the cow’s milk butter has the texture and smell of a strong crumbly cheese.

Photo: Cavan County Museum

While this may sound like a one of a kind discovery, it’s actually fairly common: as far back as the Iron–Age people have been storing butter in cold, low–oxygen peat bogs, it is thought, to preserve them or possibly as offerings to the gods. Butter was also used to pay taxes and rents in medieval times, and was seen as a luxury item. Most bog butter found doesn’t contain salt, which was a common method of preservation before refrigeration.

The combination of low water temperature and certain bacteria can make foodstuffs unpalatable to the bacteria that would normally break them down. Indeed, researchers have found that meat stored in bogs for two years can stay similarly preserved to meat stored in a freezer.

This particular specimen of bog butter has been sent to the Conservation Department at the National Museum of Ireland for research and analysis.

So, any volunteers for some delicious bog butter?

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