Cork has an entire museum dedicated to butter, and it's weirdly wonderful

On a rainy afternoon in Dingle in 2016, my wife and I ended up giving a ride to a few hitchhikers who invented us back to a pub to watch the Ireland vs France EuroCup final. It was a delightful day, and as we chatted with various folks at the bar about the rest of our vacation plans, everyone told us the same thing: when you get to Cork, you have to go to the Butter Museum. It struck us both as a weird way to spend a day, but we filed it in the back of our minds. The next night, we met with some friends (the proprietors of Greywood Arts in Killeagh) for dinner, and they told us the same thing: that we would absolutely love the Cork Butter Museum.

When we arrived in Cork, we spent some time wandering around downtown, and eventually noticed signs for the Firkin Crane performing arts center, which sounded like something that would fit well with our interests. But it turned out, they were closed that day — and of course, just as we arrived, the sunshine decided to abruptly give way to a rainy deluge. We needed time to come up with a new plan for the day, so we sought shelter in the nearest place we could.

As luck would have it, that place was the Cork Butter Museum.

Butter has long been a mainstay of Irish diets as well as a major export, and the museum, which opened in 1985, focuses on its cultural history across the island. There are exhibits on the marketing and tariff complications of Ireland's early industrialization period; there are also collections of spoons and churns and bowls and other antique kitchenware dating back centuries, along with meticulously crafted descriptions of their social relevance. These artifacts are often contextualized alongside the roles they played in local folklores as well (such as the churn that had a notch carved out to store the petrified hand of a child who suffered a cot death, in order to fool the Good People and prevent them from stealing any more children from the family — that one has permanently scarred my brain). There's even a petrified lump of bog butter on display from roughly a thousand years ago. It's also where I learned that Kerrygold is essentially a nationalized brand that buys raw milk from a wide range of independent Irish farmers and uses that to make its delicious products.

Who knew that a museum about butter could be so charming and educational?

If you can't make to Cork yourself anytime soon, the museum offers a robust collection of online archives as well.

Cork Butter Museum

Image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)