Lettische Butter (Latvian Butter)National Butter Export Control Board of Latvia, 1929

"Latvian butter." The quality of butter produced by the newly independent Latvia between the wars is nearly as steeped in mythology as is the Latvian Brown cow (brūnā govs)—recognized as its own cattle breed, with cows registered since 1885—from whence it was produced.

Latvia's economic base at the end of the 19th century had been industry, one based not on raw materials derived from the rich interior of the Russian Empire but from imports—ships would bring in the raw materials required for industry and leave laden with products mainly of flax and hemp while manufactured goods were destined for the interior or elsewhere in Europe. World War I destroyed that industrial base, whether through wartime destruction or, in the case of retreating occupying Bolshevik forces, sabotage or destruction of otherwise intact factories whose equipment could not be evacuated.

Latvia's only possibility for post-war economic recovery was to return to its agrarian roots. Butter came to be one of the mainstays of Latvia's agricultural exports.


The graph shows about 14½ thousand tons exported in 1929 (year of publication), dropping the year of global economic depression, then recovering to nearly 24 thousand tons in 1938. Published by the Latvian Bureau of Statistics, 1939.

"Lettische Butter" was targeted at further expanding the German market. Germany quickly grew to be Latvia's largest source of imports, largely industrial goods. As a result, Latvia struggled with a perennial trade deficit with Germany, exporting only about half the value of what it imported; butter was a key component of Latvia's balance of trade strategy. By 1928, the year before this brochure was published, Latvia had become the tenth largest butter exporter on the world market, but with 85% going to a single customer, Germany.

Latvian butter production in the post-Soviet era has not recovered, with total production being a mere fraction of exports more than half a century ago, based on statistics we've been able to locate online (in thousands of tons):

Tons (,000)6.466.955.97

We have not been able to locate more recent figures; after 2008 would be of particular interest, as that year the Latvian parliament passed measures aimed, in part, at increasing butter production. Nor have we found the current EU farm product export quotas pertaining to butter.[1]

Album of illustrations

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The geographical relationship of Latvia to Germany prior to World War II, much closer than today

Gesamtansicht von Riga. — Panorama of Rīga.

Der Rigasche Strand. — Rīga seaside.

Eine Jungwirtschaft. — A nascent industry.

Lettlands Braune. — The Latvian Brown cow.

Lettlands Schwarzbunte. — The Latvian black multicolored.

Eine Genossenschaftsmolkerei in Livland. — A cooperative dairy in Livland.

Eine Genossenschaftsmolkerei in Kurland. — A cooperative dairy in Kurzeme.

Innenansicht einer lettischen Molkerei. — Interior view of a Latvian dairy.

Eine Molkerei im Betrieb. — A dairy operation.

Rigaer Milchzentrale. — Rīga's central dairy.

Kühlwagen zum Buttertransport. — Refrigerated (ice wagon) railway cars to transport butter.

Ausladung der Butter aus den Kühlwagen. — Loading butter into refrigerated railway cars.

Das Staatliche Kühlhaus. — National Cold Store Depot.

Verwaltungsgebäude des Kühlhauses und der Butterkontrolle. — Cold Store Depot and Butter Control Board Administration building.

Maschinensaal des Staatlichen Kühlhauses. — Machinery equipment room of the National Cold Store Depot.

Kühlkammer für Butter im Staatlichen Kühlhause. — Cooling chamber for butter in the National Cold Store Depot.

Prüfung der Butter. — Testing the butter.

Prüfungskammer für Haltbarkeitsuntersuchungen. — Durability testing chamber.

Chemische Untersuchung der Butter. — Chemical analysis of the butter.

Bestimmung des Wassergehalts der Butter. — Checking the water content of butter.

Annual Latvian butter exports, millions of kilograms

Das bakteriologische Laboratorium. — Bacteriological Laboratory.

Bakteriologische Untersuchung der Butter. — Bacteriological Analysis of Butter.

Echtheitsprüfung der Butter mit der Analysen-Quarzlampe. — Checking the authenticity of the butter with a quartz analysis lamp.

Verladung der Butter in Dampfer. — Loading butter onto a steamer.

Löschung einer lettischen Buttersendung in Stettin. — Unloading a Latvian butter shipment in Stettin.

Eisbrecher im Kampf mit dem Eise. — The icebreaker Krišjanis Valdemars battling the ice.

Der Eisbrecher bahnt den Weg. — The icebreaker will pave the way.

Zur Ausfuhr fertiges Butterfässchen mit lettischer Butter. — A keg of Latvian butter ready for export.

Ein Passagier- und Kühldampfer (Nordland) mit lettischer Butter unterwegs nach Deutschland. — A passenger and refrigerated cargo steamer (the Nordland) on its way to Germany with Latvian butter.

The Krišjānis Valdemārs on a commemorative 10 lat coin

The Krišjānis Valdemārs in dry dock.

Schematic of the Krišjānis Valdemārs.

The Nordland in its post-WWII war incarnation as the Державин.

The export port National Cold Storage Depot, August 5, 1939, group portrait.

Sviesta iekraušana kuģos no valsts saldētavas Eksportostā, 1930. gadā. — Loading butter on to ships from the National Cold Storage Depot, Export Port, 1930

Additional reading

[1]As of 2010.

Updated: July, 2016

"Lettische Butter" was compiled and published by Latvian State Butter Export Control. Associated illustrations have been moved to the end of each transcribed section and do not appear in original page order.

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