Butter is practically perfect in just about any form. Anyone with tastebuds knows this. But if, like many Americans, you’re storing your butter in the refrigerator, you’re screwing up. And if you buy a $25 trinket in which to store your room-temperature butter, you’re screwing up even worse.
True, any instance of spreading or dolloping butter is vastly improved by softened, room-temp butter. And if you don’t already know this based on intuition or life experience, the USDA provides a handy guide on “How to Buy Butter,” explaining that “ready spreadability” is best achieved by “remov[ing] 10 to 15 minutes before use.”
But, honestly, is anyone doing that? Except for extreme circumstances—you live in an especially hot and humid climate, or you plan to be away from home for a long time—butter is just fine stored out on the kitchen counter. Don’t believe me? Gizmodo looked into the science behind it and even checked with the Food and Drug Administration, who confirmed that, “One can get away with storing butter at ambient temperature for a while ....”
They didn’t specify how long “a while” is but, just trust me: your butter is fine unrefrigerated. So you’re ready to make your kitchen (or at least the tiny corner where the butter is stored) more like a cozy French café. But now what?
You may think you need a butter crock. I did. I had the brilliant idea to get one for my mother this past Christmas, because she loves butter (in a normal, human way, not a Paula Deen way), and there’s not much else you can do to translate that into a gift.
“A modern version of the centuries old French ‘beurrier,’” the butter crock (or butter bell, as it’s sometimes called) is designed to keep unrefrigerated butter fresh by suspending upended butter in a thin layer of water. This is cute in theory, as it seems quaint and old-timey. But the water has to be changed every few days. And if the room gets too warm, the butter will slip out of the bell and make a watery mess. That’s an awful lot of work just to make your morning toast construction a little easier. Not to mention the fact that lots of people (in the comment section here) found that their butter actually went rancid faster in the butter crock than when it was just left out in a normal butter dish.
Indeed, if you scan advice for leaving butter out on the counter, butter crocks and regular old butter dishes are recommended equally and without distinction. The water is supposed to create an airtight seal, but there doesn’t seem to be any proven scientific advantage. Plus, I’m a highly anxious hypochondriac, and I’ve been eating room-temperature butter out of a regular old butter dish for months without any ill effects. Just, you know, don’t leave a stick of butter out uncovered if you have cats, rats, or any other critters. But anything with a top will work perfectly well to protect your pre-softened butter.
Basically: butter crocks are bullshit. Fancy, frivolous, occasionally charmingly antique, overpriced bullshit.