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Why Does Everyone Love Irish Butter?

Block of butter with curl

You may have noticed the grocery store butter aisle offers way more options than salted or unsalted these days—and butter imported from Europe has become increasingly en-vogue.

Kerrygold Irish butter—which, as the name implies, hails from Ireland—first hit the US market in 1999 and has become the clear front-runner in this category. With its eye-catching foil wrapper, you can’t miss it on the shelf, and it's available in almost every major supermarket. Shoppers have definitely noticed it. The creamy, golden butter has become the second most popular butter sold in the US—with only Minnesota-based American classic Land O’ Lakes outselling it.

Many celebrities swear by it, including Martha Stewart, Oprah, Kourtney Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen, Stanley Tucci, Kate Beckinsale and Sarah Jessica Parker and obviously home cooks are smitten by it too. But what is Irish butter and what makes it different from other butters? We talked to Irish butter experts, including two of Ireland's most famous chefs, to get the lowdown on this delightful dairy product.

Related: 10 European Butters That Are Worth the Splurge

Stick of butter in butter dish<p>iStock</p>
Stick of butter in butter dish

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What Is Irish Butter?

Since Ireland is part of the EU, Irish butter is categorized as European butter, which typically has a higher butterfat percentage (between 82% and 90%) than standard American stick butter (about 80% butterfat). Kerrygold Salted Pure Irish Butter has a butterfat content of 80% and Kerrygold Unsalted Pure Irish Butter has a butterfat content of 82%.

While the higher fat percentage in the unsalted version contributes to its richness, the brand, which was founded in 1962, claims that the main difference comes down to what their cows eat. “The grass-fed diet of our cows results in milk that’s naturally enriched and in turn produces a more creamy, flavorful butter with a rich texture; this is the fundamental grass-fed difference that sets Kerrygold butter apart from other types of butter on the market,” says Alexandra Vinci, Brand Manager at Ornua Foods North America, the Irish agricultural cooperative that markets and sells dairy products on behalf of its dairy processors and farmers. The co-op is the Emerald Isle’s largest exporter of Irish dairy products and owns Kerrygold.

Darina Allen—chef, cookbook author and co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland—who has no association with Kerrygold—concurs that what makes Irish butter better is the “quality, quite simply because grass-fed cows make better butter."

"We have nine Jersey cows here on our organic farm and make our own butter from their cream… in the summer, we can taste a difference based on which pasture they’ve been feeding from,” she explains, adding that when she’s traveling and can’t bring her own butter, she seeks out Kerrygold for cooking and baking.

All dairy suppliers for Kerrygold products sold in the US are certified to Ireland’s “Grass Fed Dairy Standard,” says Alexandra. This certification ensures the milk used comes from cows that have a diet of 95% grass on average. Outdoor grazing plays an important part in this, she explains. “Ireland is lucky to be regularly swept with rainfall from the Atlantic Ocean; this coupled with rich, fertile land and a temperate climate provides the perfect environment for growing lush grass for our cows to graze on all day long for the majority of the year—longer than almost any other country,” she says.

This sentiment was echoed by Irish celebrity chef and cookbook author Kevin Dundon. “Irish butter has an extra richness that very few others have which is the result of our unique climate.” As Allen puts it, “Here in Ireland, we grow grass better than anywhere else in the world.”

Related: Costco Shoppers Are Going Wild About This Sale on Fan-Favorite Butter

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Is Kerrygold the Only Irish Butter?

Nope, but Kerrygold is definitely the Irish butter brand you're most likely to find at your local supermarket (and also at Costco). If you want to explore the wider world of Irish butters, you can check at specialty grocers for brands like Tipperary, Glenstal or Cuinneog.

Why Is Irish Butter So Yellow?

Again, the answer to this is the grass. “The natural golden color comes from the high levels of beta carotene, which naturally occurs in the grass that the cows consume,” says Alexandra.

But it’s not only the color that distinguishes this favorite from its competition. Studies have shown that butter produced from the milk of grass-fed cows contains higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), Omega 3 and Omega 6 than butter made from cows that consume a predominately grain-based diet.

What Are the Best Uses for Irish Butter?

“Hearing from chefs and cooks around the world, you can use Irish butter instead of standard American stick butter in almost any recipe and it always improves flavor and texture,” says Allen. “It’s the only butter I use,” she adds. She recommends trying it in Hollandaise sauce, to make an herb butter for finishing baked fish, to spread on Irish soda bread or to make traditional Irish biscuits (aka cookies).

Whether you’re using it in pastry, like Irish scones, or in a pastry for quiche or pie, “Irish butter is an important ingredient to enhance texture,” explains Dundon. “It also lifts sauces with incomparable flavors and gives them an extra-glossy finish, when used to finish a peppered steak, for example,” he adds.

Like any butter, you should store it in the fridge if you are not using it every day. But for day-to-day use as a spread for bread, Dundon recommends keeping it at room temperature: “If your kitchen is between 65-75˚, keep small quantities at room temperature in a butter dish so it will have the perfect texture to spread on bread, to make a soup extra silky or even with some cake!” he says.

Up next: 52 Easy Irish Recipes