For the first 30 years of my life, I had heard, but wasn’t curious in the least, about “Bruun Butter”. My mother used to mention it in almost hushed tones, as though it was the pinnacle of all butterdom. In a more practical application, you heard it often as this “Bruun Butter Cake” or that “Bruun Butter Cake”, depending on who made it. And all along, I assumed they were indeed still using Bruun butter, whatever that was. I didn’t even know where Bruun was. At some point, I naturally assumed Brun was a place, hence I started to think of it as “Brunn” as opposed to “Brun,” the former someplace in Germany or Austria. And German or Austrian butter seemed like a very plausible explanation, the “Mercedes” of butter as it were. Kind of like Vienna sausage, no? But, duh, that was a completely wrong assumption. In previous posts on this blog, readers have speculated that the butter was from Australia, maybe New Zealand, etc., but no one knew for sure. Several asked where they could buy it, and I myself was under the impression that it was still on the market but as with its reputation, just incredibly hard to find and only made available to the butter cognescenti of the highest cooking social strata in Manila. Another duh.
So here’s the story. And if you try to google “Brun Butter” many of the posts that show up are actually from marketmanila with no conclusive content. EXCEPT that there was indeed one reader, Apicio, who knew the real score and his tip on Brun being a Danish man rather than a city is what finally provided the key to unlocking the butter mystery. So in the early 1900’s in cosmopolitan Manila and haciendas near and far, they were lapping up canned “Brun” butter exported by the butter companies of the Dane industrialist Harald Plum. Described by Time Magazine article in 1929 as “Copenhagen’s butter Creosus”. That fascinating article (click link and read it, it is totally worth it) also describes how Plum tried to commit suicide in 1929 when his companies were on the verge of bankruptcy. I couldn’t find any other information as to if and when the companies actually did close their doors, and hence the export of the fable “Brun Butter”. Who knows, maybe the brand was sold, or some white knight came and saved their rear ends, paving the way for further exports of the butter that had become the darling of Philippine bakers. But it is entirely possible that starting the 1930’s, there was NO MORE Brun Butter on the market in Manila! If you know of someone who was alive then who can confirm up to when they were able to buy cans of actual Brun butter, I would appreciate your input and comments… Anyone with a photo of a used and preserved can of brun butter who is willing to share a photo would also be greatly appreciated. :)
So what’s the big deal with canned butter anyway? First of all, good butter is good butter… with a high fat content from happy cows. Denmark, England, France and other parts of Europe with extensive pastures, cool weather and hefty cows have traditionally produced some wonderful butters. In the last century or so, Australia and New Zealand have also produced great butter. But butter is perishable, and melts in warm weather, so the innovation of successfully canning butter for export and use in the tropics was a major innovation and something that made western style desserts even in constant 85-90F heat possible. Butter soon replaced lard as the fat of choice in many locally baked goods, and as refrigeration gained ground, fresher and lighter packaged butters made it to our groceries. But canned butter had a distinctive taste and aroma, maybe as a result of the canning process and possibly salt content. If you are more curious about canned butter, read this interesting post I found on the net.
Today, the most commonly available canned butter (and it isn’t that common to find it in stock either) is the Queensland Brand of New Zealand sourced butter. It is imported and distributed by the New Zealand Creamery, Inc. in Makati, for which I can’t find much information at all. It’s a bit odd that the can doesn’t categorically state what ingredients are in it. Sure it has pasteurized cream, but no salt? Coloring? And do I really believe it is manufactured “in our own creamery” as stated on the can, or that is was made specifically for them by a New Zealand based canned butter manufacturer? At any rate, it does provide that canned butter flavor that is slightly more intense than block butters you typically see in the grocery. This is good for things like pound cake, butter cakes, some cookies and even ensaimadas. I recently used this can for some torta experiments. It’s quite pricey, at PHP261.50 for 500 grams at Cash & Carry Supermarket, compared with PHP219.81 for the equivalent amount of Unsalted Anchor Butter (PHP99.80 for 227 grams), But the 19% premium might be well worth it if you are trying to replicate that fabled “Brun Butter” flavor in your baked goods.