According to books from 1836 and 1859, the fresh May butter was made into the shape of a sheep (lamb) lying down, dog, pyramid, etc. and taken to their regular customers in a "beautiful milk-bowl adorned with grass and flowers" and white cloths. Lambs of butter had green grass, buttercups or primroses/cowslips flowers stuck in their mouths.
"Many dairymen [in Holland] are accustomed in spring, when the first grass butter is made, to send their regular customers a few little lumps of fresh May or grass butter. These presents generally have a peculiar form, and on the specimens most carefully prepared some animal is moulded, as a sheep lying down, a dog, &c., with a bunch of green grass or buttercups in its mouth. The dairywoman herself usually presents this butter in a beautiful milk-bowl adorned with grass and flowers, covered with glittering white cloths."
Milch Cows and Dairy Farming... by Charles Louis Flint. NY: 1859
"Butter.—There are three distinct kinds of butter made in Holland: Grass butter, made when the cows are grass; Whey butter, from the whey of sweet milk cheese; and Hay butter, made in winter.
When the cows have been three weeks at grass, the butter is delicious, is made in fanciful shapes of lambs, [or pyramids] or stuck with the flowers of the polyanthus (primrose/cowslip), &c., and sells as high as 44 stivers, 60 to 70 cents, the 17oz. or Dutch pound."
Frenchman Jean-Francois Millet's painting "Peasants bringing home a calf born in the fields" from 1864 (at the Art Institute of Chicago) is interesting since it shows how a calf born out in the field could be easily moved to shelter.
©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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