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December 26, 2016

The Story Behind Texas’ Favorite Butter

By: W.F. Strong

Texas has a great number of Texas brands:

Southwest Airlines.
Texas Instruments.
Lone Star Beer.
Dell Computer.
Imperial Sugar.
The King Ranch.

Now, The King Ranch is a brand that came, quite literally, from a brand. King Ranch even has its own brand of Ford Pickup.

The King Ranch also helped launch another old Texas brand, Falfurrias Butter.

It is a little circuitous, but this is how it all came about. Richard King’s partner, Mifflin Kenedy, sold 7,000 cows to Ed Lasater, who then created the dairy that launched Falfurrias butter. Thirty-five years later, the King Ranch bought Lasater’s land, along with many head of cattle, to create the Encino division of the King Ranch.

But that’s not the story I’m here to tell. I’m here to talk about a great old brand of Texas butter.

Falfurrias butter was first made in Falfurrias, of course, in 1909. People have wondered whether the butter is named for the town or the town for the butter, but they were actually both named after Lasater’s ranch, which was named for a grove of trees called La Mota de Falfurrias. Lasater said that that unique word, Falfurrias, came from the Lipan Apache language and, loosely translated, means “Land of Heart’s Delight.”

The butter was certainly the town’s best known export in those early days, and likely remains so today. Even the school mascot, the Jerseys, was named after the butter’s real creators – the Jersey cows. At one point Falfurrias was home to the largest Jersey cattle herd in the world.

And so that gave special meaning to the once popular bumper sticker there: “Watch Your Step – You’re in Jersey Country.” I’m not sure the author of that intended the double meaning, but it certainly provided a good deal of local levity until it was recalled.

Falfurrias butter remains a popular niche brand of butter. In Texas, it’s sold at all the major grocery stores, and some smaller ones, too. It has been quite popular in northern Mexico for generations.

A friend tells me that as a child in Saltillo he remembers his mother bringing back the mantequilla dulce de Falfurrias as a special treat for the kids anytime she traveled to Texas.

A Texas Marine in WWII recalled that as he was wading ashore in the battle for Okinawa, a Falfurrias Butter crate bumped up against his leg in the surf. He found it comforting, an assurance from home that all would be well. And so it was.

Falfurrias Butter outgrew Falfurrias. It became so popular that it was eventually bought by the Dairy Farmers of America, but rest assured it is still made in Texas.

It is made by Keller’s Creamery in Winnsboro, Texas, and has grown at a Texas-sized pace of 40 percent over the last few years. That’s a lot of biscuits and baked potatoes, y’all.

When you drive through Falfurrias today, on state Highway 285, you can still see the vintage Falfurrias Butter sign on the side of the old Creamery Building. The town newspaper, Falfurrias Facts, occupies the building today.

In the interest of full disclosure ethical transparency, I have to reveal that I am also an export of Falfurrias, and even though I know on which side my bread is buttered, so to speak, I assure you that it does not affect the veracity of this commentary.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.

This story originally aired on June 15, 2016.


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