‘Some will rob you with a 6-gun, some with a fountain pen’ Why people are smuggling butter into Wisconsin

Maple syrup thefts in Quebec; adulterated olive oil from Italy; horse meat filler in the EU and apparently everywhere.

The mob’s got its fingers in all kinds of food fraud, but leave it to Wisconsin to quaintly produce a butter smuggler.

Whenever Jean Smith leaves her home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to visit relatives out of state, she’ll stop in Nebraska to load up on blocks of Kerrygold butter, imported from Ireland, which is banned in the state that calls itself, “America’s Dairyland.”

“Ms. Smith brings back as much Kerrygold butter with her when she visits family in Nebraska,” said a civil lawsuit she and three other butter-lovers filed against Wisconsin in a state court last month. “She keeps large amounts of the butter in her home refrigerator in the hopes that she will have enough to last her until her next out-state trip.”

Kerrygold says the “winds, rain and warming influence of the Gulf Stream all contribute to the lush grass” where the Ireland-based company’s happy cows graze before they’re milked to create butter that’s “silky and creamy and glow a healthy, golden yellow.”

It may be specially crafted but the product is what’s called “ungraded butter,” which doesn’t carry the familiar USDA stamp of approval or in this case a Wisconsin grade. The state is the only one in the U.S. to declare it “unlawful to sell, offer or expose for sale, or have in possession with intent to sell, any butter at retail unless it has been graded.”

M. L. Nestel of The Daily Beast writes that Smith’s lawsuit is the first of three dealing with the butter law this year. In one federal lawsuit, Kerrygold accuses a competitor of trademark infringement for selling “Irishgold” butter. In another federal lawsuit, a small ungraded artisanal butter company called Minerva claims its butter is getting cut out of the Wisconsin market over an outdated technicality.

The 1953 law was rarely enforced until now, maybe because the grading process is grueling.

A grader has to assess in sequential steps the “flavor and aroma, body and texture, color, salt, package and by the use of other tests or procedures approved by the department for ascertaining the quality of butter in whole or part,” according to the state’s website on the matter.

The story goes on to outline the minutia of grading standards, protectionism and bullshit claims.

And, like most food porn, has nothing to do with safety.

  • J’Marinde Shephard

    This is hysterical. When I was a kid, we used to be among those who smuggled margarine out of Wisconsin.