A growing appetite for butter has sent prices to some of their highest levels ever.

Butter joins milk and cheese as a dairy commodity at record or near-record prices this year.

“All of agriculture, from grain crops to pork and beef, all of these things have had a real good run of late,” said Casey Langan, spokesman for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, who cited high demand from nations like China, India and Brazil, each with large emerging middle classes.

“When you have people entering the middle class for the first time, the first thing they do is add protein to their diet,” Langan said. “They don’t run out and buy a TV.”

The soaring global demand for butter is occurring at the same time U.S. butter consumption has reached its highest point in more than 40 years, with Americans turning away from hydrogenated vegetable oils and increasingly seeking out products with no artificial ingredients.

All of that has sent butter prices shooting higher.

The cash price for a pound of butter was $2.40 on Friday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about $1 a pound more than at the same time last year.

The price hit $2.62 a pound on July 23, according to the USDA. That was 19 cents shy of its record price of $2.81 in September 1998.

— McClatchy Newspapers