One of the topics frequently addressed on this blog is the numerous and ever-changing marketing scams Big Food uses to trick consumers into buying fractionated, overly processed, GMO-ridden, nutrient-poor products. Identifying and “outing” these phony ploys is perhaps the single most frequent source of “thank-you” emails to my inbox from readers who, like me, never cease to be amazed at the lows large food manufacturers and even small businesses will stoop to make an easy buck. Handmade rolled butter or Amish butter is the latest scheme that needs to be exposed.
It used to be that glitzy packaging and prime shelf space lured unwitting consumers the most effectively. Lately, however, it seems that a popular way to sell processed food is to “dress it down” so the product resembles something homemade or an item from a farmer’s market.
Hence, the advent of rolled “Amish butter” humbly hand-wrapped in parchment paper. It’s not whipped butter, but rather a solid block. More on what this stuff actually is below.
Big Food Targets this Type of Consumer with Amish Rolled Butter
This approach works particularly well with consumers who understand the importance of homemade and traditional foods. However, these same people, for whatever reason, usually have no “dirt under their nails” either producing some of their own food or dealing directly with local farmers who do.
This scenario can lead to a more intellectual approach to Real Food. In other words, understanding the problem with little to no practical, on the ground knowledge of how food is produced. While there is nothing wrong with this, it leaves a person vulnerable to food scams. Understanding only that factory fare is to be avoided, that the Food Pyramid is a joke, and that old-fashioned, minimally processed foods like butter are better is usually not enough!
You have to …. forgive the overly used phrase … know your farmer.
This gap in knowledge between what nutrient-dense foods are and how they are actually produced is what food manufacturers exploit – bigtime.
Amish Roll Butter Defined
You knew it was bound to happen, right?
As the popularity of old fashioned butter rose, so did attempts by conventional food manufacturers to cash in.
One approach that has really gone cha-ching for large commercial dairy companies is the marketing of Amish butter, also called hand-rolled butter or simply butter rolls.
Your first clue that this stuff isn’t what it claims is the mere fact that it is everywhere. For example, nearly every large supermarket chain in my large metro area carries it.
Mmmm. Let’s think about this for a minute…
The truth is that there aren’t enough small, grass-fed Amish dairy farms in the entire United States to produce enough quality butter to supply supermarkets. We would need a return to the millions upon millions of family farms prior to WWII for this to happen!
REAL Amish butter is a niche product much like the market for healthy butter substitutes. You buy it directly at an Amish farm, at a farmer’s market, or from a local food club. Some small health food stores might carry small quantities of locally produced tubs.
One thing is for sure. It’s NOT going to be a widely distributed product let alone delivered on enormous SYSCO trucks and stocked on the shelves of large supermarket chains!
What is Rolled Butter Really?
If Amish roll butter isn’t really from small, grass-fed Amish dairy farms, then what is it?
According to an employee of a company that makes rolled butter, Amish butter is really just large slabs (in this case, 40 pounds each) of commercial butter cut and wrapped in parchment paper by Amish employees.
Basically, the Amish butter at your supermarket is no better than other widely available butter brands such as Land O’Lakes.
The price indicates the same. At my local supermarket, 2-pound rolls of Amish butter sell for $9.99. This is comparable in price/ounce to the generic supermarket brand, which is just smaller in size. Do the math. Amish butter is about half the price of gourmet butter like Kerry Gold or Lurpak. It is about one-third the price of real Amish grass-fed butter. More on that below.
In addition, roll butter is basically the same pale yellow as supermarket butter. This indicates a low amount of fat-soluble vitamins (zero Vitamin K2) and that the cream likely came from conventional (GMO) grain-fed cows.
One other problem I can’t explain. When a package of at least one brand of roll butter I tested is kept at room temperature, it doesn’t soften! The ingredients only list “pasteurized cream and salt”. So, I’m not quite sure what is going on or what unlabeled additive(s) are at play. All I can tell you is that real butter softens on the counter!
Real Amish Butter
If you learn to make homemade butter or buy it from a small grass-fed dairy farm, you will see firsthand the scam of hand-rolled butter. Freshly made, artisanal butter isn’t “rolled” (aka, cut in round or oval chunks). It is scooped and packaged into tubs while still soft from churning! The only way it would be “rolled” is if a machine shaped it into a large slab, it was chilled until hard, and then cut and wrapped probably on a factory line of some kind.
In other words, “hand-rolled butter” doesn’t mean that it is quality butter (although theoretically, it could be). It is just a description of the butter packaging process. Nothing more.
Small grass-fed dairy farmers typically package real Amish butter in one pound tubs. It is also very yellow and quite expensive – usually about three times the price of commercialized Amish butter.
Beware of Fake Amish Butter Rolls at Local Markets
Here’s another tip. I’ve seen the same “Amish butter” available at supermarkets being hawked at farmer’s markets too. It’s kind of like the problematic trend of small businesses buying conventional produce (same as in a supermarket) and selling at a farmers market or roadside stand like it’s local or worse, organic!
In sum, Amish roll butter is certainly a better choice than margarine, and if that is what fits your budget, then buy it. However, don’t be fooled by the clever branding. Rolled butter isn’t the down-home, country-made product suggested by the name and the packaging. If you want real Amish butter, you won’t be finding it at the grocery store.
You get what you pay for. Supermarket price? Supermarket butter.