Vologda Butter

Origins of Buttermaking

Every region has its claim to fame, but there's none sweeter than Vologda's position as Russia's butter capital. Vologda is famous for its dairy products. Just mention butter and quality together and every Russian will invariably reply "Vologda butter." Vologda butter (Vologodskoe) is a traditional Russian product, with delicious taste and natural lightness.

The first mentioning about buttermaking in Vologda dates from the beginning of the 12th century. Over many centuries melted butter was the main dairy product manufactured on Vologda's soil. And all of it came from small independent landowners and prosperous peasants. Later butter deliveries to Moscow, St.Petersburg and Arkhangelsk brought more capital to the area than any other branch.

Russia consumed homemade melted butter long enough, up to the middle of the 19th century. Later, with the advent of industrial revolution and reforms of 1861, demand for foodstuffs increased significantly, butter among them. Vologda responded attentively to the demands of the Russian markets to become one of the leading producers of butter.

Industrial milk processing started in the Vologda gubernia in 1835 when two cheese-making factories were set up. Another point of interest is that by the middle of the 20th century the residents of the gubernia used the word a "cheese dairy" instead of a "butter dairy", though buttermaking was the main speciality of Vologda farmers. Unlike Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy cheese-making did not find acceptance in this part of Russia.

The construction of a railway line connecting Yaroslavl and Vologda in the year of 1872, undertaken by the Russian state, was crucial to the development of the Vologda butter industry. Dairy factories sprouted up in the districts of Vologda, Gryazovets, Kadnikov and Tot'ma.

A butter dairy in the settlement of Fominskoye (Vologda gubernia, 1871) was established for the first time ever in Russia. Having set a cream separator in 1881, butter trade became big business and a special matter of pride for Vologda farmers over the past 100 years, and one not matched anywhere in Russia.

Contribution of Nikolai Vereshchagin

Vologda's history is also the story of many exceptional men and women. This is the case also with the Vologda butter trade that was built up from scratch and rapidly turned into a flourishing industry of huge dimensions, involving thousands of peasants, local and foreign merchants.

Foreigners played an important role in the development of the pre-Revolutionary Vologda. A Dane by origin, Frederik Buhmann and his wife Ida introduced rationalism of European science on dairy cattle raising into the Vologda steady way of life. On the spot of Buhmann's estate, in 1911 the Russian government founded a specialized Dairy Institute with excellent for those times laboratories and a campus. The Buhmann family's contribution to the development of dairy cattle raising in the Vologda oblast is well-known and publicly recognized. Thanks to their efforts the technology of dairy products processing was perfected.

A Vologda-born N.V. Vereshchagin (1839-1907), opened a school for peasants in Ida Buhmann's country house and began experiments with dairy sub-products. Nikolai Vereshchagin, the then most influential Russian dairy expert, is considered the founder of modern Russian dairy farming. He had a talent for organizing that enriched the Russian language with the notion of "Vologda Butter."

It was Mr. Vereshchagin who noticed that ordinary butter seemed sour, and set about to fix that. Experimenting, he tried separating sweet cream from milk twice during butter-making, rather than once as was the usual practice.

The result was a king among butters. It was fattier than the 70-percent-fat butter produced by one round of separation, and creamier as well. It had no odor, a delicious walnutty taste and utterly no aftertaste, thanks to its remarkable 16 to 18 Turner degrees of acidity. This was real Vologda butter.

After a string of experiments Nikolai Vereshchagin came to the conclusion that numerous factors make an impact on the taste and odour of butter, namely herbs growing on the meadows, breed of cows, their ration, thickness and acidity of milk, and above all cleanness and freshness of milk. Up to now the farmers use technology that hasn't changed all that much over the years.

Industrial Production and Export

Industrial production of butter on the territory of the Vologda gubernia developed rapidly. In 1913 there were 1290 creameries in the region in comparison to 15 in 1875. The Vologda province produced 20% of butter manufactured in the European part of Russia.

Butter became a special item of the Vologda export late in the 19th century. Nikolai Vereshchagin obtained preferential tariffs on railway transportation of the new goods. First butter was exported only to Western Europe. From 1897 foreign firms began pouring in and soon dominated the trade, Danish firms being especially prominent. It is known that Danish merchants sold their own butter to England while buying cheaper butter for their country in Vologda. Alongside with Denmark, Germany and Great Britain were also the biggest exporters of Vologda butter. Foreign participation in butter export was no exceptional Russian phenomenon. Late in the 19th century export of the Vologda butter amounted to 2000 tons making up 47% of its annual production in the Vologda province. Later the Vologda butter broke into new markets in Turkey and the Middle East.

Very soon Vologda merchants realized that dairy farming was a promising industry and took up butter production. Peasants provided the dairies with milk from steadily growing herds. A few well-to-do farmers also established dairies and some ordinary peasants became dairy owners by establishing cooperative dairies. It was only from 1904, however, that cooperative dairy farming became a widespread phenomenon of substantial importance. It was considered the main way of butter production in the Vologda province up to the 1920s. Cooperative dairies produced butter in large quantities of evenly high quality, well suited for export and promoted agricultural development generally.

Early in the 20th century, however, there were alarming signs that the Vologda butter sector declined because of World War I and the Civil War that unleashed in the country.

The buttermaking sector recovered as soon as it was kept under continuous supervision by the state instructors. First butter production was monitored by a trust Masloprom, then Narkomsnab, a governmental institution, subordinate to the Ministry of Meat and Dairy Industry.

Over the last 100 years the settlement of Molochnoye has evidently become a major centre for dairy farming in the Vologda Oblast. It boasts the Vologda Dairy Academy, a local creamery, a research institute and a livestock breeding farm. There prominent dairy experts take important and innovative initiatives and work hard to create the institutional framework of the Vologda butter production and trade.

Today, industrially, milk is separated by large machines in bulk. The cream is processed and reduced variously to produce consumer products with varying names depending on the thickness. Some cream is dried and powdered, some is condensed and mixed with sugar and canned. Most cream is made into butter. The butter is packaged and chilled for storage and sale. At a later stage these packages are broken down into packs and barrels.

In 2020 Vologda butter won the National Competition for Regional Food Brands "Tastes of Russia". The “Tastes of Russia” competition opens up prospects for the development of regional brands and rural areas. It is organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation. The competition is a part of a complex of actions for support of food branding. The competition is aimed to open regional gastronomic brands, and to acquaint consumers with a variety of unique Russian tastes.

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