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Texas is home to many famous brands. Unlike Southwest Airlines, Lone Star Beer and Whataburger, the King Ranch is the only one that evolved from an actual brand. And that ranch helped launch another famous brand, Falfurrias Butter.
In 1895, Richard King’s ranching partner, Mifflin Kenedy, sold 7,000 cows to South Texas neighbor Ed Lasater. Dairy cows, Lasater knew, would deliver five times the return on investment as beef cattle. He started with Durham shorthorns because that breed could support either a beef or dairy operation. It would be more than a dozen years before he raised the herd of Jersey cattle with which he created the dairy that launched Falfurrias Butter.
Falfurrias butter was first made in Falfurrias, southwest of Corpus Christi, in 1909, five years after Lasater founded the town. People have wondered whether the butter is named for the town or the town for the butter, but they were both named after Lasater’s ranch, which was named for a grove of trees called La Mota de Falfurrias. Lasater claimed Falfurrias came from the Lipan Apache language and, loosely translated, meant “land of heart’s delight.” The truth of the word’s origin could not be confirmed, or absolutely refuted, by a Lipan Apache linguist.
The butter was the town’s best-known export in those early days, and likely remains so today. Even the town’s high school mascot, the Jerseys, was named after the butter’s real creators. Indeed, at one point, Falfurrias was home to the largest Jersey cattle herd in the world.
That gave special meaning to the once-popular bumper sticker there: “Watch Your Step, You’re in Jersey Country.” I’m not sure the author intended the double meaning, but it certainly provided a good deal of local levity until it was discontinued.
Falfurrias remains a popular niche brand of butter. In Texas it is sold at all major grocery stores and some smaller ones, too. It has been quite popular in northern Mexico for generations.
A friend tells me that as a child in Saltillo, he remembers his mother bringing back the mantequilla dulce de Falfurrias—sweet butter from Falfurrias—as a special treat for the kids anytime she traveled to Texas.
A Texas Marine in World War II recalled that as he was wading ashore in the battle for Okinawa, a Falfurrias Butter crate bumped up against his leg in the surf, a comforting reminder of home.
Falfurrias Butter outgrew Falfurrias.
It became so popular that it was eventually bought by the Dairy Farmers of America, but it is still made in Texas, and sales over the past year have grown 20%. It is made by Keller’s Creamery in Winnsboro and has grown at a Texas-sized pace of 40% in recent years.
When you drive through Falfurrias today, on state Highway 285, you can still see the vintage Falfurrias Butter sign on the side of the old creamery. The town newspaper, Falfurrias Facts, occupies the building today.
In the interest of full disclosure and ethical transparency, I have to reveal that I am also an export of Falfurrias, and even though I know on which side my bread is buttered, I assure you that it does not affect the veracity of this commentary.
W.F. Strong is a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and first wrote this story for Texas Standard.