Mon Dieu! France Is Running Out Of Butter!

By | October 31, 2017

I kid you not!  Not since World War II has France faced such a severe butter shortage and the crisis is worsening as butter stocks have literally melted away from grocery shelves.

France runs on or perhaps I should say swims in  butter! It has the highest butter per person consumption in the entire world.

Butter is very integral to the French way of eating and cooking.

The average French person starts his day with a breakfast “tartine”; usually a huge piece of fresh baguette, sliced in the middle with both sides generously slathered in butter.

The consumption of butter laden pastries and foods either cooked in butter or served with butter sauces has long been a cultural tradition,  with the exception of olive oil producing Provencial cooking.

When I was in Normandy, aka,”butter and cream country” two weeks ago, I did not notice any shortage  at that time, but in Paris yes.

I was skeptical in believing this could ever happen here.   I had read that bakers were complaining about the difficulty in finding the vast amounts of butter used in making the sumptuous buttery croissants, brioches, and all the other wickedly delicious pastries.

Saturday at my local Carrefour just up the avenue, I was shocked to see those  bare shelves, usually bulging with the usual plethora of butters.

Sunday morning I was thrilled to see my own fabulous neighborhood baker still was making his superb brioche feuilletée! Made with layers of butter and brioche dough much in the same way as puff pastry, it is beyond delicious!

I went back to check on Carrefour Monday  to see if it was better, and this huge space remained totally bare, as seen in my photo,  except for two packs of miniature portions and three packs of the store brand.

Ever since I can remember, and yes long before I ever came to live in France, I have always made sure to never run out of butter!

I never fell for that horse nonsense that butter was bad for you  and have stood proudly by this succulent essential delight, that has finally gotten a retrieve from those crazy false accusations.

How can a country that makes over  1200 different kinds of cheese run out of butter pray tell?  I don’t see any shortage of cheeses here!

Nor is there any less creme fraiche, the slightly fermented cream and all the other creme based delights this country revels in.

You have never tasted how sacredly delicious cream can be until you taste some creme d’Isigny.  A beautiful creamy yellow and so thick that a spoon can stand upright in it, it is a culinary masterpiece from Normandy.

The butter made from D’Isigny cream is likewise very renown and considered one of the very best in flavour.

France is and has been a butter paradise for gourmets.  Whereas in the states, you might few brands and kinds of butter, here in France is a dazzling world of butters to choose from, or was!

The three main butter producing areas of France are first and foremost Normandy, then Brittany, and the Charente Poitou regions.

Normandy being more famous for sweet butters, and Brittany noted for the demi sel, or salted butters.  Charentes Poitou produces a dryer butter with a lower moisture, called for with making puff pastry, which is super popular here.

Butter even has its own AOC, or Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée, which is a very strict labeling guarantee that it was produced in a certain area in a certain traditional way.

The newest AOC to join Normandy and Charentes Poitou is Beurre de Bresse, already famous for their pampered AOC chickens and other birds.

All French butters have a lower water content than American butters.  For pastry makers that is important, as it can give a shorter or more tender pastry.

The flavour of butters here really is far superior to what you can find in market butters in the states.  Just no comparison!

I find them to have this very nutty flavour, that is consistent with good butter bar none.  Even the mass produced ones here fare well in flavour.

Some are made from raw milk, and some are baratte produced like the one above that I picked up in Normandy.  Baratte means making it the ancient way with  slightly matured cream to increase buttery aromas.

Besides of course the plethora of bio(organic) butters, there are artisanal butters done in small batches by artisanal butter makers, such as  Bordiers.

Jean Yves Bordiers makes his well sought out hand paddled butters in Saint Malo on the Brittany coast just west of Mont Saint Michel.

My favourite of  his flavoured butters  are seaweed and smoked,”fume”.

Then you have the fantastic butters that have whole crystals of sea salt imbedded in them.  We have very renown sea salts here, most notably the Sel de Guerande and sels de Noirmoutier, an Island southwest of Nantes.

So, what is the cause of this butter crisis?

Does France not have enough cows?   Have they all decided not to produce milk?

Have they been decimated by some horrible disease like the poor ducks and geese here, leaving us with a shortage of foie gras?

No, no, no! The cows are all out in the pastures chewing their cud as much as usual, but greedy huge retailers are controlling the butter market here.

In France, large grocery retailers settle on a price every February and that becomes the price that they will pay butter producers for the year.

When butter producers need to sell their butter at a higher price because of, increasing cost of milk and cream, due to farmers increasing production costs,  the French retailers have refused to pay any higher prices.

The dangling letters seen on those empty shelves puts blame on not being able to meet the supply, not pointing out that they were unwilling to pay higher price.

Milk farmers are starting to pass out leaflets addressing the real reason to consumers, pointing blame towards the huge grocery distributors.

There seems to be compassionate concern for milk farmers here, who have complained of being barely able to keep their milk cows flowing milk, with increasing costs of hay and other feeds needed during the winter months.

There have been a rising number of suicides of  French farmers because of this chronic financial strain and yes some milk farmers have thrown in the towel.

Fortunately, France recently fought tooth and nail against the establishment of a huge proposed dairy farm of 1000 cows and remains committed to keeping dairy farms within a more modest size.

Since the de demonization of butter, worldwide demand has risen.  As Asians have shown an intense interest in French pastries,  there has been increasing butter exports to Asia, especially China.

Of course when any shortage starts to occur, panic buying and stocking increases and that too is to blame for empty butter shelves.

Some large grocery chains have agreed to pay a higher price and pass it along to consumers, but the “walmart” size ones are so far holding out.

With the holidays not far away, I hope this butter shortage won’t last, or we are going to see some really large scale  butter riots!

Well, at least France is not running out of mushrooms,  but of course they need to be sauteed in butter!

After experiencing somewhat my own butter panic, I assure you that I’ll be heading out on my own butter hunt this afternoon.

Vive le beurre Francaise!


15 thoughts on “Mon Dieu! France Is Running Out Of Butter!

  1. David Stone

    Humorous. My wife June, used to go for all of the “low fat” and “no fat”products. After the doctor tried to claim that I was diabetic (which wasn’t true; I was barely “pre-diabetic”) I read a fair amount about diets). and became and anti-low/no fat. So we have gone back to real butter and “Smart Balance, an extra virgin olive oil based spread. It does seem to be a little difficult to find good quality real butter.

    The french seem to do quite well with their rather rich diets; they certainly do not have the obesity problems that so many Americans have, which is undoubtedly due to all of the processed foods. It can be difficult to find quality natural foods in most of our stores; and one has to question a lot of the”organic food products . . . there is too much exaggerated marketing hype.

    I just put my wife on a plane to CA this morning. Her sister fell and broke her shoulder; so June will be out there for a month or two to help her with her recovery . . . and being left to fend for myself, it will be a challenge for me to “eat right” while she is gone or I would probably gain weight . . . Ha!

    Natural foods are far superior to all of the processed foods, for sure.

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you David for your comment. Fortunately you like to cook, so now you can eat exactly what you want! With all the riches available from the sea, you can certainly compose healthy menus by just fixing simple meals from scratch.
      I go through a lot of olive oil each week, because I make my own vinaigrette each night for the salad, eaten after the main meal, French style. I generally will use olive oil too for sauteing most vegetables, but like to dress them with butter.
      I love using butter to deglaze les sucs when pan cooking meats and have a strong preferences for butter sauces for fish and shellfish, except with tuna. The majority of my butter goes into my pastry making that I do on Sundays. So I am a heavy butter user too. If this butter shortage continues, I will have to start making my own! Hugs

      1. David Stone

        LOL . . . Cherry, you certainly put it right when you said that I could cook simple meals; that is the extent of my cooking, fairly simple but adequate meals.

        Well, there have been several Internet articles about the butter shortages in France; so, it seems to be a “major problem” as you mentioned. As is said: “This too shall pass in time”. Good luck with your search for good butter for your cooking and baking.

        1. Cherry Post author

          David, from what you have written before, you seem to have a creativity about cooking, so I imagine you can pull off some meals that you love eating.
          Certainly butter will return to shelves, as in reality there is not any real shortage of butter with the farmer or producteurs, just the big chains who do not want their profit margin decreased! Hugs

          1. David Stone

            Cherry, things are changing a little in the U.S. too.

            My neighbor is a Regional Manager for Publix grocery stores, overseeing something like 112 stores. He just got back from a two week trip to Atlanta, GA which included several days at a new totally automated plant for organic dairy products. The new system costs something like $48 Million with a projected three year payback. Publix and other grocers are greatly expanding their organic product lines. This new plant has such a volume capacity that they are even having to purchase organic milk to supplement their own in-house dairy farms. Of course their previous suppliers of organic milk and other organic dairy products will have to find other markets for their products; and this should greatly expand the competitive market for organic dairy products.

            The costs of organic foods should be declining somewhat with these market changes. Publix is vastly increasing their own name brand organic product lines, including butter. Of course those still probably won’t have the unique flavors and varied textures of the European farmers. Mass production tends to lose the unique flavors and textures of the small dairies.; but at least it will be organic. (I do sort of question the authenticity of a lot of the “organic labeling” of a lot of products though.)

            U.S. foods are slowly improving from the “processed foods” that were so unhealthy; but I’m sure that it will be difficult to find the quality of those foods that you have in Europe . . . but things seem to be improving.

            Oh, with my wife being gone to California for a month or two to help her sister recuperate from a broken shoulder, I am experiencing the ‘challenges” of being a retiree LIVING ALONE ON THEIR OWN . . . it is certainly “challenging” to try to cook (and to cook healthily) for just one person for sure. It also gives an appreciation for how you fill your life with all of your interesting trips and blog articles. Life in retirement can be “challenging” to say the least. Too many people whom I have observed just sit back and let their lives dwindle to progressively less activity; and the demise in their health and mental states. The “challenges” in life just never end, do they? you should be an inspiration to othrs to get out and enjoy life.

            Best wishes to you and your daughter.

  2. Shawn McBride

    During my fondly remembered, all-too-short, visit to France in the 1990s, I was amazed at the superior quality of dairy products. From butter to cream to yogurt, the tastes were a revelation. And, of course, this meant that all the food items made with dairy had a startlingly rich delightful taste, as well. I believe America has overdone some of the notions of food safety—including pasteurization. But, then, when all our sources are huge corporate farms, ranches and dairies, I suppose we need all those safeguards. Lately, I have been accessing butters made in Ireland. They have so much real flavor and don’t spatter when melted. That proves to me that their moisture content is much lower than that of butter made in the U.S. Thanks for another delightful and informative post!

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you Shawn for sharing your own “butter” views. Glad you are able to get some Irish butter, which is a better choice in the states. When I lived briefly in Germany, I preferred the imported Irish butter to the German ones, but usually would stock up enough on French butters during the weekly weekend trip across the border into France, which was necessary to find the freshest of seafoods, cheeses and creams and just about everything else! German milk though was good and lot less expensive, probably due to much larger farms.
      Fortunately the majority of France’s greatest cheeses are still made with raw milk, which gives the cheese so much more flavour and texture as it matures and develops. Hugs

  3. Gareth

    Germany had the same issue with milk prices a few years ago. The farmers staged a “strike” refusing to sell their milk, dumping it on the street until the supermarket chains increased their prices. I hope French farmers can obtain better prices too!
    Butter is fab :o)
    Thanks for another great blog entry.

    1. Cherry Post author

      Love hearing from you Gareth and thank you for sharing a similar situation in Germany and also your kinds words! I hope that the poor farmers will obtain greater remuneration for their butter too, and that the distributors will not dip into extra profit. Hugs

  4. Isham Smith

    Cherry,I can’t imagine going to the store and not finding A common commodity item like butter. I I know when I do go to buy butter I have to look close so I don’t get imitation Butter that is so bad for you . I also have been getting Irish ☘️ butter it’s very good.
    This really sounds like a scam to drive up the prices especially right at the holidays
    Good luck butter Hunting!
    Hugs to you

    1. Cherry Post author

      Thank you Isham for your insight. Yes, it would be a perfect scam to increase panic thinking about having enough butter for holiday baking. I would so much rather buy butter directly from the productor and skip the stores. Have started to investigate doing that online, like you can with certain other foods here. Never thought I would be butter hunting in France! Hugs

  5. pam v

    Thank you for the very enjoyable, entertaining and always informative post, Cherry. I’m so sorry for the French farmers. As the market ebbs and flows, stores, respecting their suppliers, must let those real truths out! I hate the false and controlling Walmarts of the world. Quality costs more, and smart shopping can help you find bargains. Not all good wine and cheese cost the same– even here you can find varying prices among and between artisinal wines and cheeses. Love, miss, and appreciate you and the discourse across the miles…

    1. Cherry Post author

      A wonderful surprise to hear from from you Pam! I hope the French farmers hold out, they deserve to receive a juste price.
      Small vegetable farmers and some small cheese makers sell their products in the city’s vast outdoor markets, in every arrondissement. I prefer to buy vegetables and fish in my neighborhood marche which is small in comparison to some of the others. Keep hoping to see you here one day! Love and hugs to you.

  6. Judy Abington watkins

    I love hearing from you I only wish I could see you I promise to bring butter. I are doing better with your loss you are always in my prayers love Judy

    1. Cherry Post author

      Judy, I loved seeing your very sweet comment and what a delightful surprise! I hope you will visit me here just as you are, no butter required. Saw at least one sign that butter is on the retour. At least they are not running out of wine!Thank you for your prayers. Love and hugs

Comments are closed.