Hard Butter Mystery Riles Canada

Is it the cow feed? Dairy regulations? A mass delusion?


In "Sad Sack Wasp Trap," the fourth episode of the first season of HBO's brilliant series Succession, Connor Roy, a putatively libertarian doofus who is the eldest son of grizzled media tycoon Logan Roy, volunteers to take the helm in planning an annual family foundation gala dinner.

Planning the event is a big deal for Connor, played by Alan Ruck of the 1986 film Ferris Beuller's Day Off, because it may be the first time in his life that he's really done anything at all. After a casual conversation with his ailing father about his usurper brother's plans for a hostile takeover, a look of sheer terror overtakes Connor's face when he first hears and then sees his stepmother fail in her attempt to spread a pat of butter onto a flaky, crumbling dinner roll. Aghast, Connor rushes away.

"Hey! Hey!" Connor screams as he barges into the kitchen to berate the busy and bewildered cooks and waitstaff. "The butter's too cold! The butter is too cold! The butter's all fucked! You're fuckwads and you fucked it! There's dinner rolls ripping out there as we speak!" 

The fictional scene is hilarious in no small part because it plays on the sometimes-bizarre predilections of the super-rich. Yet today, a whole nation is gripped by almost this very same problem: Canada's butter, it seems, is too hard.

Even at room temperature, some Canadians claim, their butter now won't soften and spread. And, like a nation of Connor Roys, Canadians are waving their hands and dropping F-bombs as they attempt to get to the bottom of the problem, which they've dubbed "Buttergate."

The first to point out the problem was Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab, who tweeted about hard butter in December. Then, last month, popular Canadian food author and columnist Julie Van Rosendaal also suggested something is amiss with Canada's butter. She speculated the country's now unspreadably hard butter could be the result of tariff changes or changed farming practices.

Since those initial tweets, Van Rosendaal—and many Canadians—have pointed a finger at palm oil supplements, which some farmers in Canada use to augment the diets of their dairy cows. To date, there's no proof that blaming palm oil tells the whole story.

Some Canadians are even pushing back on the very premise that there is a problem. They argue that the country's butter is no harder nor less spreadable than it has been historically. Others are questioning why palm oil—the mass production of which, as I point out in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us, is tied to deforestation and habitat loss for many critically endangered species, including Sumatran tigers—is even used to feed dairy cows.

Though most reports suggest Buttergate may stem from farmers' use of palm oil as feed, an interesting new report this week suggests "regulations and restrictions on the industry may be partly to blame" for the hard butter.

Just like similar requirements in the United States, Canada's food regulations require that butter produced or sold in the country must contain at least 80% milkfat. These sorts of rules, generally known as standards of identity, establish ingredient lists or recipes producers must follow if they want to use a term such as "butter" that has been defined under the law, codified into regulations, or both. Standards of identity also typically differ from dictionary definitions of the same food.

(I've long argued the United States should abolish all food standards of identity because they don't benefit consumers but instead serve to protect the incumbent businesses that help establish the standards by erecting regulatory barriers to cripple innovative entrepreneurs and those who embrace more traditional methods.)

So are regulations to blame for Buttergate? What about the use of palm oil? Or, given it's the 2020s, might Buttergate be the result of a vast conspiracy carried out by legions of Succession fans working in Canada's dairy industry?

With the Canadian border still closed due to the pandemic, I spoke this week with Cherylynn Bos, owner and operator of Rock Ridge Dairy Farms, located between Edmonton and Calgary. She says any number of factors—including regulations—could be to blame. (Bos's dairy is organically certified and does not use palm oil in its feed.)

Bos says anything from seasonal changes in dairy feeding practices to butter churning processes and temperatures could be to blame. Still, Bos isn't certain Buttergate is all it's cracked up to be.

"There's a million factors that affect butter softness. If you look at the records, even in the 1950s that was a concern. It's not a new concept. I feel like someone was trying to stir things up," she says.

Glenford Jameson, a leading Canadian food lawyer, also told me this week that myriad issues may factor into Buttergate—including those Bos identified. Jameson also notes that Canada has strict dairy supply management rules and practices in place, and urges general faith in the country's dairy regulators. But he also notes that growing demand for organic butter and grassfed butter in recent years has diverted increasing amounts of milk from the country's traditional central processing and into those specialty streams. That may have had a ripple effect.

"Canada's supply-managed dairy industry isn't designed to take cues from the consumer, so consumer demands are now forcing dairy supply management organizations to find a way to make industry responsive, with mixed results," Jameson says.

"I always thought that the palm oil angle was more a distraction and not the real cause," food science Prof. Keith Warriner of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, told me this week. "My theory is that we can relate the hardness to people just noticing more as we all became home-bakers."

Indeed, sky-high demand for butter during the pandemic—everyone's cooking and baking and eating at home—seemingly means producers who want to keep up with demand either must make more butter, or make it faster, or both.

Warriner also says it's reasonable to presume regulations could be partly to blame for Buttergate. But his colleague—who Warriner identifies as a fat chemist (while playfully noting he's using the term to refer to the colleague's expertise, not his appearance)—disagrees.

"Regulations are definitely not to blame" for Buttergate, University of Guelph food science professor Alejandro Marangoni told me by email this week. He says he's certain, based on significant existing research, that palm oil supplements lead to harder butter.

"I think the issue is that the consumers did not expect this to be happening to their dairy products, but there is nothing inherently wrong with it," Marangoni says.

There may be nothing wrong, but Canada's leading dairy group is clearly concerned. Last month, Dairy Farmers of Canada, a trade group, urged producers to temporarily halt their use of palm oil supplements.

While the cause or causes of Buttergate likely include the use of palm oil in feed and may include other factors, one thing is for certain. If a Canadian dairy figured out a way to produce a more-spreadable butter that falls short of Canada's legal requirements that butter contain at least 80 percent fat, then that dairy could not label that butter as "butter." 

Whether or not regulations are to blame for contributing to Canada's so-called Buttergate, this much is true: Even if regulations didn't make Canada's butter harder, they may make it harder to make it softer.

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  2. I’d assume, given just how close to “room temperature” the normal softening point of butter really is, that it was due to people turning down their thermostats a couple of degrees.

    1. Seasonal variation and while this time last year everyone was too busy stocking up on TP to mind the butter before cramming it into their poutine hole, this year everbody’s got time to sit around and obsess about butter.

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  3. How can anyone seriously put forward any theory other than the clear and obvious fact that this was completely and totally caused by Trump?

    1. My thoughts exactly. They didn’t even bother mentioning him.

      1. You fuckwits, it’s obviously global warming that’s to blame!

        1. You are the fuckwit. Global warming would melt or at least soften butter. Therefore, the problem must be Global Cooling. The Ice Age is Coming!

          1. If global warming made Texas freeze, what the heck you think it’s gonna do at the colder end of the continent?????

            1. Well obviously the warming in global warming has to go somewhere. If the warmest places get colder, it makes sense that the coldest places get warmer.

    2. Suderman will get right on it!

  4. Prediction: Sleepy Joe is going to become the first modern “president” in American history who never does one single press conference. And everyone knows exactly why that is: he’s a senile old buffoon who can barely even remember his own name half the time. Heck, he’s the president in name only, not even really making any of his own decisions!

    1. He will appear to give press conferences, where he provides lucid and intelligent answers to probing questions.

      The first deepfake President.

    2. He could be the first Democrat since FD Roosevelt to abolish the weekly fireside chat!

    3. Obama had exactly one non scripted press confrence

  5. This is a damned important issue for reason to cover. Much like Meghan and Harry dumping the royal family would be or Kim showing Kanye the door. Let’s have more of these stories and less about piddling nonsense like reneging on getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

    1. Here’s one they’ll never touch in a million years: a Chinese court ruled a few days ago that being gay can be classified as a psychological disorder under Chinese law:

      The cognitive dissonance is going to be overwhelming on this one!

    2. Butter has a worldwide free market culture …

  6. For fuck’s sake. Canadians are now (again?) officially snowflakes. Perhaps not as bad (yet) as the knotted panty wearers in the UK, but definitely on the pussy spectrum.

    In any case, worries about butter quality will be moot after Ottawa prohibits butter consumption in the name of national health and farm animal rights. (The real test will be prohibition of maple syrup since that derives from inhuman treatment of defenseless trees.)

  7. Let’s talk about why the northern border is closed and we never discuss it, but the southern border is open for business and causing more pain for communities nearby.

    Nah let’s talk about butta.

    1. Canadians aren’t as good of slaves as impoverished Guatemalans.

      1. The reason that butter from Canuckistanistanistanistanistan is so hard, is that Mamma the Moron has been fudge-packing all of the moose that moose-milk comes from…,in%20Russia%2C%20Sweden%20and%20Canada.

        AND all of these moose are NOT enough for Mamma the Moron! So now she is fudge-packing dairy cows ass well! Fudge-packing them SOOO hard, the butterfat content of their milk gets all compacted!

        Mystery solved! You’re welcome!

        1. When you mentioned moose milk, I was hoping for a reference to the Ernie/Piranha Club comic strip.

        2. Sqrlsy thinks that I’m a girl and is trying to get me to peg him from the sounds of it.

  8. When I heard the claim that palm oil makes the butter hard, I immediately called bullshit on the whole thing.

    Country Crock Plant Butter includes palm kernel and palm fuit oils and no dairy, yet is as soft fresh from the fridge as it is setting out (and my fridge can get to freezing point for water.) It comes in Olive Oil, Almond Oil, and Avocado Oil varieties. I’ve tried the first two and I am going for Avocado Oil next. I’m no Vegan, and I think it’s delicious and Canadians need to fill their pie-holes with it and take off!

    1. I saw you posted a similar comment weeks ago so I tried the olive oil kind. Goddamn you’re right!

      1. Full disclosure: Country Crock most likely ships to all 50 States and makes no inquiries about whether their customers keep a year-long food inventory.

    2. They’re talking about palm oil in the cow feed, not the butter. (BTW, I’ve tried and liked the olive oil plant butter. )

    3. The claim is that feeding the cows palm oil makes the butter hard. That has nothing to do with Country Crock fake butter – which is probably a trans-fat, since most plant oils are liquid at room temperature. I’m not sure how Country Crock gets away with not using “butter” in the name rather than “margarine”.

      I have also seen softer butter made by mixing a plant oil into real butter. Once again, that has nothing to do with what the cows were fed. If it stays mixed, it’s spreadable straight out of the refrigerator, but I suspect that if I left it out in my non-airconditioned kitchen on a hot summer day, it would separate into lumps of butter floating in a pool of oil.

  9. Well there’s not much going on in Canada so they need something to talk about.

    Also I’m not sure most Canadians know what a palm is exactly but it is definitely something foreign and therefore suspect.

    1. So all the Hollywood Lefties who threaten to move to Canada when an Elaction doesn’t go their way are wanting to move to a land of Xenophobes? Got it. The irony and lack of self-awaremeness is delicious!

  10. Or maybe the butter is hard in Canada because it gets really cold there in the winter.

    1. Eureka, frozen cows provide frozen butter!

      But I peculiarly sense a plot to develop Canadian ice cream exports, since Canadians obviously can’t spread any there.

      1. The Eskimos have 20 words for snow, but now we need a new word for the Eskimos.

        1. Snow niggers?

          1. *covers mouth and sniggers*

      2. No, frozen cows provide ice cream.

        California cows (earthquakes) provide butter.

        1. No. Earthquake cows provide milkshakes.


  11. Canadian here. I’ve had to pop a stick in the microwave a few times this year, just to get it to soften. I don’t usually have to do that so it was surprising.

    I didn’t know that it was a thing though.

    1. Don’t pop your stick in the microwave too often.

  12. The butter saw me with my shirt off and I have been working out.

  13. Those room temperature butter packages you find in restaurants are gross my opinion.

  14. I’m having a “buttergate” down here in the US. I noticed that they removed the beautiful native American woman from the Land O’ Lakes butter. I have eaten only that brand since the 60s. For some reason, it tastes like shit now. I did notice that they weren’t the only brand in town.

    1. I checked the LOL site. They’ve been celebrating Woman’s History month, so … she’s now officially a part of history B-)

    2. yeah, apparently to be more inclusive of Indigenous peoples, they had to remove a picture of an Indigenous person from their product.

      1. They should’ve waited until Native American history month to drive her off.

    3. Not only that, the Land O’ Lakes American cheese stopped melting some time over the last 6 months. Grilled cheese sandwiches are ruined. Hopefully it is just a bad batch and not some kind of a cow rebellion.

  15. Hard butter? A shelf stable butter with an alcohol content sounds quite nice to me.

  16. Am I really the only one who knows that the cause of this is Trump?

  17. An acquaintance of mine makes and sells tofu to the public. (It’s not as faggy as it sounds; he’s Japanese and so are his customers.) He told me that making tofu was not difficult. The most difficult part of his work was maintaining consistency. Consistent taste, consistent smell, consistent texture, etc. That’s what his customers demand, and it’s a very tough row to hoe.

    1. But, it’s still tofu.

    2. What taste?

      1. Exactly. It needs to consistently have no taste.

      2. “What taste?”

        Tofu can carry many different flavors, and can be prepared in many different styles. Buddhist restaurants use it in the making of mock pork, chicken, tuna, crab, lamb, shrimp, beef etc.

        1. “mock pork, chicken, tuna, crab, lamb, shrimp, beef etc.”

          All of which still tastes like nothing.

          1. So your mother’s a bad cook. You’d be surprised what a good professional cook can do with tofu, spices, seaweed and fresh vegetables. Try the vegetarian restaurant just east of Taiwan Normal University in Taipei, if it’s still there. The name escapes me. Look for the restaurant decorated with swastikas.

            1. You know who else was vegetarian and had buildings with swastikas?

        2. If those Buddhist restaurants serve “mock meat” to the wrong carnivore, the carnivore might show them “the sound of one hand clapping.”

  18. Wait… a dairy farmer named “Cherylynn BOS”? Really?! This reads more like Pynchon or Vonnegut than Reason.

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  22. In defense of standards of identity, they keep nondairy “spread,” which contains significant amounts of water, from being labeled as margarine. If your old family recipes don’t bake up as well as they should, you’re probably using “spread” instead of real margarine. Standards of identity also ensure that sandwich spreads aren’t labeled as mayonnaise.

  23. Obviously a case of Sars Bovi 2.

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