Butter – Now Spreadable

In food on 02/15/2009 at 6:01 pm

Today we bought a Norpro butter keeper at Marshalls. It’s a little homely, but cheap, and should do what it’s supposed to, make real butter spreadable by keeping it at room temperature. The other half is quite the butter fiend, but can never get enough of it when it’s in the solid cold form. Though I suppose if butter came in popsicle form, it would be quite popular at our apartment.

Found a good article about butter keepers:

“The idea behind French butter dishes is pure, ingenious simplicity. Butter at room temperature quickly turns rancid when exposed to oxygen, so the usual means of preserving it is to store it in the refrigerator. But all that’s really needed is to keep air away from the butter. A French butter dish does this by using water to form a seal between the butter and the air. There are two parts to the dish: a smaller, bell- or cone-shaped piece that sits on a wide base, and a second, larger container. You fill the bell up with butter, put water in the larger container, and invert the bell into the water. Because butter is basically an oil, it won’t mix with the water, and as long as it’s not too hot, it will remain sticky enough to stay inside the bell. You can keep this on your kitchen table so that butter is always available without having to soften it.

Of course, most people have refrigerators, so keeping butter fresh is no longer much of an issue. But for some unfathomable reason, even in the technologically advanced and culturally sophisticated 21st century, I regularly find myself at restaurants that serve hard, cold butter with their soft, warm bread. Presumably the temperature of the butter is supposed to reassure diners that it’s fresh, but I am utterly at a loss to comprehend what technique I am expected to employ to spread the butter while keeping both the bread and my dignity intact. This is, for me, one of life’s great imponderables. But it’s a problem solved neatly and painlessly by a French butter dish—always fresh, always soft, no refrigeration required. Every restaurant should use them.

I should point out that for all their virtues, French butter dishes are not maintenance-free. The water needs to be changed every two or three days, and some people recommend adding salt to the water to retard the development of mold. They’re also not impervious to heat. If you leave a full dish in a hot room or in direct sunlight, the butter can melt and ooze into the water when you lift the lid—not a pretty sight. It’s also important to top off the butter regularly. If the bell is only half full, a layer of air will be trapped between the water and the butter, defeating the purpose of the dish. Some designs overcome this problem by placing small holes in the sides of the bell to allow the air to escape.

There’s yet one other problem: these dishes don’t have a good name. I call them “French butter dishes” because that seems to be the most popular name, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. If you go to any random housewares shop in France and ask for a butter dish, or beurrier as they’re called there, you’ll get an ordinary, everyday butter dish that will hold a stick of butter quite nicely in your refrigerator—not one of these. (According to the scant evidence I’ve been able to piece together, the design apparently originated in the French town of Vallauris, but is now more popular in the United States than in France. Go figure.) In any case, this particular type of French butter dish doesn’t have a distinct generic name. I’ve seen them called butter bells—a term that is trademarked by L. Tremain, Inc.—as well as French butter crocks or butter keepers. But none of these terms quite does justice to the unique design. Perhaps the pottery makers of the world would consider the term cloche de beurre, which is French for “butter bell” and not, as far as I know, trademarked. If the name catches on, remember: you heard it here first.

French butter dishes are cool because they’re a low-tech solution to not just one, but two annoying challenges—keeping butter fresh and keeping it soft.”

Now the only problem is to figure out what to do with our gorgeous Fishs Eddy Brooklyn bridge butter dish…


we wish we had this one

  1. that’s funny, i just broke down and bought fake, spreadable butter yesterday for the first time. i was craving butter on fresh bread. it just has some fraction of canola oil in it. i still feel bad about buying it though.

  2. switch rocky switch! totally worth the $6 at marshalls. you can put stickers on the ugly white surface.

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