“Can you please get me the butter from the cabinet?” she asked.
Imagine my surprise when I opened up my mother-in-law’s kitchen cabinet and found a covered butter dish inside. I grew up in a house where we refrigerated everything we consumed. I don’t think my mother would have touched a stick once it had warmed on the table for more than an hour or two.
My husband grew up in a different environment. Excess butter was stored in the fridge, but otherwise a dish or crock of it was kept in the cabinet. The result was a product that’s soft and easy to spread, unlike those solid lumps that one normally has to contend with.
Surprisingly to me, it tasted fine.
Since this globally endeared dairy product with a rich history is made from pasteurized milk, the chance of potentially harmful bacteria forming is slim. Also, the water content is low and the salt content is adequate to impede the growth of bacteria.
That being said, unsalted or whipped varieties will have a greater chance of spoiling if left out.
There is always a risk that your unrefrigerated product can go bad, but as long as you keep it covered, it is highly unlikely that anything will happen before you can finish it. I don’t know how long a stick lasts at your house, but it doesn’t usually last that long around here.
When butter becomes rancid, you can tell immediately by the taste and smell. In order to reduce the chances of your unrefrigerated stock going bad, you should always cover it when leaving it out to soften, so that as little air possible comes into contact with it.
Here’s a guaranteed way to make this work:
You can easily find a number of covered dishes and ceramic crocks in which you can store nature’s golden gift. These crocks were the go-to storage devices before the days of refrigeration.
Using a French crock or a butter bell is an almost foolproof way to keep your unrefrigerated supply fresh, yet soft and spreadable. These “bells” work by immersing a small pot in cold water, creating an airtight seal.
Foodal recommends the Le Creuset Stoneware Butter Bell Crock. It’s available in all of the standard Le Crueset colors.
The cooled water keeps the contents at a cooler temperature than when it is simply sitting the kitchen counter. The product stored in the crock will not melt or spoil, but will be soft enough to spread easily.
These devices work quite well and can keep your spread good for a week or more, sitting right on the countertop, in the cabinet, or in some other convenient space.
Use common sense and always rely on your senses to let you know if your stash has spoiled. Does it smell bad? Does it taste rancid?
During the summer months when temperatures rise above the norm, especially if you don’t have the A/C on, it might be best to refrigerate your supply whether or not you have a covered crock.
Otherwise, you can safely leave your butter out on the counter as long you take the proper precautions.
About Jennifer Swartvagher
Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.