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Bringing home Butter - How to Freeze in Paris

I would like to bring butter back in my carry on if at all possible to the States. I will be traveling first to Paris and returning to the States from Italy. Can anyone suggest which types of Ice packs area allowed through TSA? Or offer different alternatives to ice packs.

Posted by
4737 posts

As good as the butter is in France (and I love that Brittany butter with the big salt crystals), I think it would be a challenge to carry it through multiple countries.

If you do bring it back, I'd put it with your ice pack in some sort of insulated thing (like one of those insulated lunch totes) in your checked bag.

Do you have a farmer's market in your area? I get awesome butter from my local market. It may not be exactly like French butter, but it is way more convenient :)

Posted by
3336 posts

OK...my ignorance is showing here but curiosity is getting the better of me. What is different about French butter? I must admit to bringing back my share of foodstuffs from various countries but butter hadn't even occurred to me and I'm a baking enthusiast!
I will add here that I have had multiple food items confiscated on my way back through customs and wonder if they will allow butter to come in. I can't imagine why not but that's what I thought just before the customs guy chucked my hock of "speck" into the grey bin at LAX. A true low moment in my life.

Posted by
1501 posts

Whole Foods in the U.S. sells Irish Butter (Kerry Gold) Polish butter (forgot the name) and French Butter. They also sell that delicious French Triple Cream Brie! I can't think of anything more difficult to try to get through two countries -- I had Truffle Oil confiscated when I tried to get it through JFK because I was connecting. Either that, or re-claim my checked bag, put it in there, and go through security again (and miss my connecting flight) Maybe butter is solid enough not to be considered a liquid, but I don't think the TSA is going to like an ice pack, as all "gells" must be 3.5 ounces or less (including your toothpaste) unless it's in your checked luggage!

Are you going to be in Italy for a while after Paris or just connecting for your flight? If you're spending a few days or a week in Italy, where will you keep the butter? If you're connecting anywhere in the U.S., and are not landing in your final destination airport, it must be in your checked luggage. FYI I'm a retired airline employee, and as noted above, I made a mistake like this myself.

I love the French butter too, but the Irish Butter and Polish Butter are really, really good because the fat content is higher. Of course. And they're skinney and I'm not.

Posted by
216 posts

We brought French butter back last year from Paris. However, we placed it in our checked luggage since TSA or any security agency will not let you take it on as carry-on since it is semi-liquid. So we had to freeze the butter the night before. It was semi-frozen, which is the best that the hotel freezer could manage. We then packed it into an insulated bag, with an ice pack. I managed to make it from Paris to San Francisco (non-stop flight) and still be cool, but not frozen. So carrying the butter from Paris to Italy then back home will be challenging to have it stay cool. Plus you have to have someplace to put it while in Italy. Not sure how long and how many places in Italy you are going, but the longer and more hotel moves, the more challenging to keep the butter edible.
As far as why even bother, we got Bordier butter and Pascal Beillevaire butter, both from Brittany. You have to get the semi-sel, which is partly salted. Don't get the doux, which is sweet, no salt (which the Parisians prefer). It has great butter flavor and the salt crystals really make it stand out. We have tried Kerrygold and other French butter (Echere and Pampille) which we can get at Berkeley Bowl market. However, it does not come close to the Bordier or Pascal butter (which unfortunately is only available in France). If anyone knows where to get it in the US, let me know.

So, is it worth it. If I was flying nonstop from Paris back home, I would do it. Otherwise, I would pass and just stock up and fill the luggage space with Henri LeRoux caramels, Patrick Roger chocolates, and other treats that travel better.
Have fun.

Posted by
11613 posts

I agree that the butter is wonderful, but if you are spending a number of days in Europe after you buy it, the butter won't be fresh by the time you get it home, unless you can keep it frozen the whole time in a container that won't be affected by other odors.

Posted by
1437 posts

The best travel insulator that I have found is just plain old newsprint.
Freeze the butter, wrap it in newspaper, then stash it in a dollar store plastic bin.

Use the bin to pack socks and underwear, or toiletries, on your way out. Butter on the way back.

I still have a hunk of ewe milk cheese in my freezer made by my SIL's family in the Pyrénnées, part of the stash I brought back my last trip... That big wheel got lugged to London, hung out of a hotel window in Munich, and sojourned in Salzburg and Florence - that's a well-travelled cheese. I cut it up when it was still half frozen when I got home and I enjoyed a chunk again last in March. It should last me 'till July.

If bringing butter home floats your boat, do it. I'm still trying to find again a butter I tasted in Portugal that was made half ewe and half cow milk... That one I would drag home at all costs!

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for all the responses. I will be in Italy for 3 weeks and have rented an apartment so I can hopefully freeze the butter thoroughly before I fly back home. Hopefully it won't be confiscated, but i have to try :)

Posted by
6005 posts

While a number of people may have brought butter back, do be aware of a couple things...

It would need to be in your checked bag, as would any Ice or Gel packs you use for cooling.

You will need to declare it at customs, since it is a food item. By declaring, it means checking the box on the form you are requirted to fill out that indicates "yes" you have food items, as opposed to checking no.

If you indicate Butter, it is likely that the USDA (or you may be invited over by the beagle) will want to inspect it. As an animal product there are more restrictions, in some cases it may not be allowed (If the area has recent history of Mad Cow disease for instance or may be unpasturized)

The advice for something like this is if you bring it back, declare it, but be prepared to lose it.

More info can be found here: https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/82/~/travelers-bringing-food-into-the-u.s.-for-personal-use

Posted by
6721 posts

yeah -- French butter is better than anything I have been able to buy in Chicago so far including the gourmet imported butters from Ireland etc. But you cannot carry an icepack on board a plane -- you could use one in the luggage, but ice packs are among the forbidden items for carry ons as they could contain plastique or other explosive material. heck I once had my gel shoe inserts stolen by TSA -- something I could not replace when I got to France (I tried at a dozen shoe repair places). I cannot use some shoes without them without getting plantar fascitis so it was a real bummer. I have seen those blue ice paks confiscated. And I wouldn't be surprised if butter also was confiscated as it is also the kind of substance that could qualify as a paste or gel.

the last time we came back from France we had canned duck confit; although I declared it as commercially canned duck, we still got pulled for customs inspection as any animal product tends to trigger that. first time in 55 years of international travel since landing on an ocean liner in NYC in 1961 that I have been pulled for a customs inspection.

Posted by
16883 posts

Checked baggage stays cold during flight, so I wouldn't expect butter to melt, unless bags or airplane sit out on the tarmac in the sun. I bring plenty of cheese in my checked baggage. Once, I moved something to the supermarket freezer section upon entering and went back to retrieve it later.

But the point is moot if you're traveling to Italy after Paris. I have never found enough hotels with fridge or freezer access to carry perishable food for more than a few days.

Posted by
9110 posts

The cargo hold on a commercial carrier is the same temperature as the cabin, within a degree or two depending on where the vents are located - - else pets would arrive in a solid state.

The cargo hold also is at the same atmospheric pressure as the cabin, with a vary slight differential (barely enough to blow out a match if the access is cracked) to prevent rare accidental fume movement into the passenger area.

Both areas feed off the same engine bleed air ducts. You can move easily between the two areas at any altitude without noticing any change.

Posted by
1217 posts

If you're filling to pay a significant additional fee, looks like United (and probably other carriers) will allow you to ship using dry ice as a cooling material in checked baggage:

http://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/baggage/fragile.aspx

"Perishable items must not violate agricultural rules for the destination country. Perishable items may be packed in hard-sided ventilated containers with a maximum of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) of dry ice. United will not accept perishable items packed in Styrofoam coolers or in containers that include wet ice."

The experts for this kind of thing are probably sport fishermen who want to being their catch back form an Alaska or Caribbean fishing trip. I know I've seen many a guy checking a cooler of fish when flying out of my local Gulf Coast airport.

Posted by
2349 posts

Oh, come on, it's butter. No need to pack it in dry ice. If she can keep it cold for the weeks in Italy, maybe throw it in the freezer just to get it harder, it will be fine for 24 hours until she gets home. We leave butter out on the counter for a week or more. And just hope the customs agents didn't just pop a bunch of popcorn and decide to "confiscate" it.

Posted by
216 posts

Here is David Lebovitz's post on great stuff (including butter) to bring back from France (and he talks v. briefly about transporting butter in ziplock bags + insulated pack on long flights).

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/09/10-gifts-things-to-bring-back-home-from-your-trip-to-paris/

Absolutely do not miss out on the John-Charles Rochoux hazelnut sauce.
We are going to do the RS Greece tour later this year and added a couple of days in Paris on the way back so we can bring back butter and John-Charles Rochoux hazelnut sauce (in our checked luggage).

Posted by
216 posts

Forgot: YMMV, but San Francisco customs did not ask to inspect our butter or canned foie gras.
However, I always pack a couple baguette traditionale on the way back. That way, if the try to confiscate my Bordier butter, I'll just politely excuse myself, go into a corner and have one heck of a high cholesterol high fat snack. I would rather go into a butter induced coma, then give up my Bordier butter. Just kidding. I would be very sad if they confiscated it though.

Posted by
11613 posts

David, I feel better about my chocolate runs to Belgium now.

Posted by
6721 posts

Chocolate really can't be carried in the cabin. We tried that buying gift chocolates in Switzerland and they all mysteriously disappeared during the flight home. There we were with empty boxes and no gifts. Something to do with the altitude I think.

Posted by
9110 posts

You can't blame everything on altitude. Maximum cabin altitude is between six and eight grand. If you survive, so will the grub.

Posted by
1437 posts

Ed is right... Altitude isn't to blame.

A black hole, that's the explanation.
Every piece of chocolate has a concomitant black hole.
It's a fact of metaphysics that I truly believe in.

"and on the eight day, God created chocolate"

Posted by
328 posts

I second the newspaper suggestion. We recently traveled from Canada to Anguilla with some frozen beef wrapped in several layers of newspaper and a garbage bag. It was then packed in checked baggage, surrounded by clothes to help further insulate it. It survived a 5+ hour flight and then a further 3+ hours in the Caribbean heat on the boat ride to Anguilla without thawing at all. I've also done the same thing with other frozen foods on a few other trips with a lot of success.

As for carrying it on the plane, I probably wouldn't if you want it to get home. We have traveled with pureed baby food at least a half dozen times over the past two years (the security agents aren't supposed to question baby food items, even water bottles). We have had the baby food questioned three times and two of those times we were actually asked to eat it. I'd suspect they might react the same way to butter in carry on ... but with no baby to back you up, you'd probably lose it. After all that work carrying and freezing the butter to Italy and then home, it would be terrible to have it taken away on the home stretch.

Posted by
216 posts

Since I last participated in this discussion, I've seen a lot of info from reliable sources that says that Americans refrigerate butter, but in other countries, butter gets left out on the kitchen counter. While I would still not try to make the butter travel through multiple countries, knowing the above, I wouldn't get too stressed if it's not all the cold when you get back home. And as regards chocolate... we had about $200 worth of chocolate (mostly recommended by David Lebovitz) in our carry-ons the first time we came back from Paris. The kids did not get to carry those bags.

Posted by
8859 posts

I flew last week with frozen blue ice in my carry on. No one questioned it when I went through security. It is the type with a hard blue plastic shell, not the blue ice in a bag that gets slushy when not frozen.

Posted by
8889 posts

French butter ( and butters in most countries in mainland Europe) is usually unsalted. In Britain it can be salted or unsalted. I have been told in the USA butter is salted and sometimes even sweetened (yuk!).
This probably accounts for the taste difference. "French" or "Irish" butter manufactured fro the US market may well be salted, "To account for local tastes", even if it is unsalted when sold under the same brand name in the home market. This could be why Irish butter bought in the USA doesn't taste like Irish butter bought in Ireland.

Posted by
2353 posts

The difference between American butter & European butter is two things. European butter has a higher butter fat content than American butter. It is also made with "fermented cream" - cream that is let to sour a bit before making butter.

American butter comes salted & unsalted.

European is very yummy!

Posted by
2349 posts

Christi beat me to it. The difference is the sweet cream vs the cultured cream. That "sweet" cream does not mean that it has added sweeteners but that it is not soured at all. The fermentation is what gives it more flavor. Around here we can buy Amish butter that is cultured. I have a couple pounds in my fridge now. They do use salted butter in Europe. Unsalted tends to taste rather flat to us.

Posted by
5556 posts

You know, freezing food causes slight changes, generally not for the better. Poor freezing causes more damage. And storing frozen food at temperatures well above zero shortens their (frozen) shelf life. This is no secret - ask your Extension Service.

Just because we worship the freezer doesn't mean that it's the same as fresh. I'm happy to try the many artisanal and cultured butters available in the U.S. And when I'm in Europe, I enjoy fresh local food there. It's not going to the be the same when you get it home.