East? West? Which Has the Better Butter Stick?

While butter sold in the eastern United States is long and skinny, in the West it's offered in short, stout blocks. Find out why.


Photo by: Dossyl / ThinkStock

Dossyl / ThinkStock

Did you ever notice that butter is sold in long, thin sticks in the eastern part of the United States, while in the West it’s sold in short, stout blocks? Honestly, me neither. But a consumer who did recently asked Marketplace.org for an explanation.

Turns out the East-West butter divide dates back to the 1960s. Before then the West Coast didn’t have much of a dairy industry or churn out much butter or cheese.

“All our milk went to fluid needs. Whole milks, low-fat milks and nonfat milks, for example," John Bruhn, formerly the head of the University of California-Davis' Dairy Research and Information Center, told Marketplace producer Tommy Andres.

When the dairy industry in California, now the nation’s top dairy-producing state, sharply took off, butter makers there purchased new equipment, which turned out the cubes (“Western Stubbies”) now familiar in the West, rather than the long, skinny sticks that had long been standard in the East.

These longer, Eastern-pack sticks, also called Elgin sticks, after a dairy in Elgin, Ill., date back to the early 20th century, when a New Orleans restaurateur asked Hutchinson, Kan.-based butter supplier Swift and Company to divide its packaged pound blocks of butter into the 1/4-pound sticks East Coasters now know and love.

Since 2007, Land O’Lakes has produced butter in both shapes: one for the East Coast market and one for customers in the West. And though both Elgin sticks and Western Stubbies contain the same amount of butter, only one of them may fit comfortably in your butter dish.

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