There is no doubt that Vologda is Russia’s butter capital – famous also for flax and lace, it is particularly the butter for which it is famous and the delicious light and creamy Vologda butter (Vologodskoye maslo) undoubtedly ranks as the best of the best Russian butter. In the 12th century butter was made here for the first time and the famous ‘melted butter’ became an excellent source of income for the city. Homemade butter was consumed up to the beginning of the 1800’s with the every increasing demand resulting in the phasing out of traditional butter making equipment (image of traditional butter separators below) and the introduction of efficient, new industrial milk processing plants, like the Vologda gubernia set up in 1835. Since 1881 only three dairies in this region have been making Volgodskoye maslo with it’s luxurious 82, 5% butterfat content. Vologda butter owes a debt of gratitude to Nikolai Vereschagin who noticed the sour taste of certain butters and developed a process to separate the sweet cream from the milk twice, instead of the standard once. You’ll notice the real thing by the little picture of a milkmaid that should appear next to the name, Vologodskoye maslo and is the certificate of authenticity. Look for this mark of authenticity before you buy because there have been attempts to sell really disgusting surplus government butter under the same name! If you find Vologdoskoye in birch wood casks, you’ll know you hit gold. The advent of the industrial revolution sadly encouraged production of butter to alter in such a way that small landowners and farmers became part of a new system that enforced cooperation between, literally, thousands of peasants, locals and the dairies with the foreign merchants owning everything. Vologda then became the leading producer of butter and today, although not the biggest, still the best. The 1990’s
The advent of World War 1 and communism did no favours for butter or butter production but fortunately today, slowly, things are getting back to normal. What really counts, to my mind, is that farmers markets are once again delivering excellent butter despite the onslaught of margarine. Matters have improved markedly since the days of communism and increased money has enabled Russians to embrace proud culinary traditions once again.
Excellent butters choices to try are:
- Krest’yanskoe, a Soviet-era brand made by various manufacturers but the most popular brand in Russia, more so even than Vologodskoe
- Derevenskoe (from Petrosoyuz)
- Domik v derevne
Interesting and varied culinary traditions in this massive part of the world, for example, the butter ‘desert’ of the Yakut are now shared with all of us. The Yakut, an ethnic group who live in the Northern part of Siberia in the coldest part of the world, make Chokoon. For this a soft, creamy butter is mixed alternatively with warm and cold milk to make a smooth puree. To this they add berries and sugar, spoon it into small dishes and freeze it by placing it in the frost. It is eaten crushed into small pieces.
Since this is such a short article, I will include one recipe that acknowledges the Jews in the ghetto’s of East Galicia which is, today, part of the Ukraine. Notwithstanding the hell in which they lived, they found the strength, deep inside themselves, to find joy in life and thus in food – this recipe is, truly, one of those moments.
500 g egg noodles, usually ribbons
250 ml cream
180 g sugar
150 g butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons honey
200 g raisins
2 sour apples, peeled and chopped finely
200 g walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped
More butter for greasing generously
Boil the noodles in lightly salted water, drain, rinse well and set aside. Fry apples in a greased pan just until they soften, remove. Beat the eggs and sugar and add cinnamon, nutmeg, a pinch of salt, cream, honey and the softened butter. Mix very well and pour into the noodles with apples, nuts and raisins making sure that everything is mixed very well. Place in a well-greased ovenproof dish and bake at 160 C for an hour. Allow to rest for 10 minutes if serving hot.
Serve hot or cold.