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We have record of its use as early as 2,000 years before Christ. The Bible is interspersed with references to butter, the product of milk from the cow. Not only has it been regarded from time immemorial as a food fit for the gods, but its use appears to have been divinely recommended and its users promised certain immunities against evil. Butter was the only food ever defined by an Act of the U.S. Congress prior to the enactment of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.
The word butter comes from bou-tyron, which seems to mean "cowcheese" in Greek. Some scholars think, however, that the word was borrowed from the language of the northern and butterophagous Scythians, who herded cattle; Greeks lived mostly from sheep and goats whose milk, which they consumed mainly as cheese, was relatively low in butter (or butyric) fat.
Naturally, it is presumed that in four thousand years there has been considerable improvement in the manufacture of butter although we, of course, know little more of the method by which Sarah produced butter for the angels than we know of the means employed in the construction of the pyramids. The earliest details of method of manufacture are derived from the Arabs and Syrians, who appear to be as well satisfied with the original process of making butter as they are with other habits, since they have remained unchanged for centuries. The original practice of the Arabs and Syrians, so far as is known, was to use vessel made from goatskin for a churn. The animal was skinned, the skin sewed up tight, leaving an opening only at the left foreleg, where the cream was poured in. The "churn" was then suspended from the tent poles and swung until the "butter comes." This, incidentally, is the earliest known process of making butter.
Butter is a culinary treasure as old as King Tut’s tomb. "She brought forth butter in a lordly dish" (Judges 5:25). A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and butter! Pure butter is produced today essentially as it was in King Tut’s time, though butter made of milk from cows instead of camels or water buffaloes.
It takes 21 pounds of fresh, wholesome cow’s milk to make each pound
of butter like the pat of butter on waxed paper at a French farm
John Houghton, an Englishman, writing on dairying in 1695, speaks of the Irish as rotting their butter by burying it in bogs. This burying of butter in the peat bogs of Ireland may have been for the purpose of storing against a time of need, to hid it from invaders, or to ripen it for the purpose of developing flavor in a manner similar to cheese ripening.
Archeologists found a deposit of butter buried in peat bogs found wrapped in a skin in County Leitrim, and another packed in a tub with perforated wooden handles in County Tyrone, Ireland. It is believed possible that the practice of burying butter in Ireland ceased about the end of the 18th century and that many of the specimens which have been found are of far greater antiquity (11th to 14th century). The large number of specimens found, some of which weighed over 100 pounds, suggests that the burying of butter must have been a widespread practice in Ireland. Similar deposits of buried butter were also discovered in Finland.
Various other methods of packaging butter have been found mentioned in a variety of sources. A news item in the December 4, 1907 issue of the New York Produce Review and American Creamery tells of a traveler in Central Africa in 1872 being offered butter wrapped in leaves and then covered with a layer of cow dung which upon drying kept air from the butter. Repeated references are found in the literature of instances where pats of butter are cited as being "wrapped in cool cabbage leaves or freshly cut grass" -- a practice, which appeared to be rather common in various parts of Europe. As a matter of fact, it was a common practice in the earlier days of the South Water Street market in Chicago, for farmers to refrigerate their shipments of butter transported in open wagons by covering the same with grass freshly cut while still wet with dew.