Why do Bretons eat salted butter?

What is the difference between salted, semi-salted and soft butter?

There are three types of butter. Salted butter, containing more than 3% salt; semi-salted butter, between 0.5% and 3% salt and unsalted butter, the “classic”, without salt. Between unsalted butter and salted butter, competition is tough, since, according to a study carried out by a BVA* survey, 53% of French people would prefer unsalted butter, compared to 45% for salted butter. As for the remaining 2% of undecided people, their hearts are wavering, probably opting for sweet butter during the week and salty butter on the weekend. Among this percentage, the majority is Breton. The reason ? Salted butter is an institution for them. The addition of salt to the butter certainly serves to enhance its taste, but originally, its use in this recipe was quite different. We’ll explain it to you.

Salted butter, a recipe that has unintentionally imposed itself on Breton culture

Brittany, a strategic production location

In 1343 and until the Revolution, a royal tax on salt, the Gabelle, was imposed on the entire French territory. A tax introduced by King Philip VI which increased the price of salt tenfold, making it almost inaccessible. Under Gabelle, collecting salt meant going to stocks of salt granaries maintained by the government and thus paying heavy charges. Added to the merchant’s price were the royal charges: an indignation for the population who could not do otherwise than buy salt, since it was above all an essential product for the preservation of foodstuffs. This monopoly on sales represented 6% of France’s revenue. Among the rare “kingdoms” exempt from this tax: Brittany, privileged by its status as a salt-producing region. Salt was therefore not rare there, available at very low cost and used in greater quantities than elsewhere. If Brittany is the cradle of salted butter, it was above all one of the largest salt producing regions. Its multiple salt marshes in Guérande made it the perfect region for harvesting salt and fleur de sel. A title which automatically made Brittany the most capable of adding salt to the butter.

Preservation of butter by salt

Integrating salt into butter was initially intended for its preservation. Before Gabelle, the production of salted butter was therefore not exclusively Breton. In the era when refrigerators did not exist, salt was, even before being a flavor enhancer, the most effective means of preserving food. Salted butter was therefore found everywhere in France. Applying this tax was all the more strategic for the authorities, having a monopoly on the population, for whom salt was essential. La Gabelle was outraged and, you will have understood, in this affair, the Bretons were privileged. They therefore grew up consuming salted butter, which has since become a specialty and pride for Brittany.

*BVA survey carried out for the regional press in 2016

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