Butter is a very ancient product: Egyptians made it from the milk of farm animals and traces of this food have been found in cylindrical jars in the tombs of the 1st dynasty at Abydos.
Originally, butter was used for purposes other than for food: from cosmetics to medicine, in particular as a healing ointment. There is a famous story of Caesar’s legionaries, well attested to in our region, who refused to eat asparagus with butter, because they considered it to be an ointment.
A curious detail emerges from late Middle Ages cuisine: the use of butter was much more prevalent in the regions of Southern Italy than in those of the North, where lard and oil predominated. This was in spite of the logistical problems involved; actually, it may have been precisely these difficulties, which gave it a degree of exclusivity, that prompted its use among the southern elite.
For many centuries, butter has been a symbol of refinement – just think of the French “cuisine au beurre“. Its high cost compelled people to use alternative oils for cooking such as those from linseed, rapeseed, kale and, for the more affluent, from walnuts.
In the kitchen butter and oil are traditionally viewed as interchangeable, often incorrectly so.