Keller’s Creamery, which is owned by Dairy Farmers of America, created its first sculpted butter in the shape of a lamb in 1958 using a wooden, hand-pressed mold in Harleysville, Pa. Over the years, Keller’s has become the largest brand of retail sculpted butter products sold nationwide, says Sherrie Hay, sales manager for DFA’s Global Dairy Products Group.
“Year after year, the butter sculptures’ popularity continues to grow,” Hay says. “Our sculptures are the item that consumers love to have as a focal point on their tables.”
Today, Keller’s offers three, seasonal 4-ounce butter sculptures in the shape of a Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas tree and Easter lamb, which are made with fresh grade AA sweet cream salted butter. Each sculpture sells for between $3.69 and $4.
According to Hay, the sculptures, which are now manufactured in Michigan, switched from hand molds to an automated press in the late 1990s in order to meet customer demand. When the lamb sculpture first hit supermarket shelves, peppercorn eyes and a flag adorned the sculpture, but these elements were eventually eliminated to ensure manufacturing could keep pace with increasing demand.
Each sculpture takes approximately 24 hours from start to finish. Each shape starts with feeding a 55-pound block of butter into an extruder. The butter is then formed into a ribbon (similar to the process for making saltwater taffy). Then, the semi-automatic press slices the ribbon of butter into the shape of a triangle (tree) or rectangle (turkey or lamb).
Next, the butter is fed into a three-dimensional aluminum mold that presses the butter into a specific sculpture; three molds are completed at one time. Once the sculpture is formed, it is taken from the mold, inspected and placed in its specially designed package, loaded onto a skid and placed in the freezer to preserve its freshness.
According to Paul Johnson, manager of purchasing for DFA, production on the Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas tree sculptures begins in July and lasts until mid-October. Manufacturing on the Christmas trees continues through the second week of November, followed by the Easter lambs in early December through early February.
Seasonal employees are hired to ensure customer demand is filled, Johnson says.
Over the last three years, the butter’s popularity has increased with retailers. Since 2010, sales of the Thanksgiving turkey sculpture — the most popular — have jumped 26 percent to more than 15,000 cases ordered in 2012. Orders for Christmas trees have nearly tripled since 2010.
“Retailers and consumers alike see these shapes as a design for the holiday table,” Hays says. “We always encourage people to buy early, because once they’re gone, they’re gone until next year.”
Visit kellerscreamery.com to browse recipes using Keller’s butter and to find a store near you.