I’ve always refrigerated my butter. It’s what my parents did. It’s what my friends did. Which is why I was (pleasantly) surprised to hear recently that storing butter in the fridge might not be necessary.
Could it be true? Are my dreams of silky smooth, spreadable butter on-demand an everyday reality? And can we stop yelling at our kids for leaving it out on the counter each morning?
After consulting with some of my favorite trusted food gurus from sites like the Kitchn and Food52, it turns out the answer is no, you don’t have to refrigerate butter, and yes, you can leave butter on the countertop.
At least for a limited time.
The high fat content in butter helps to inhibit bacteria growth. In fact, if you’ve ever wondered why cream can be left out much longer than skim milk, it’s because of its own high fat content. And butter contains even more fat and less water than cream, so it’s even slower to grow bacteria. Plus, consider the pasteurization of the cream in US butter
Not only that, but leaving butter at room temperature will help you taste the delicious complexities of different kinds of butter — the USDA details 17 flavor profiles of butter, but most of us don’t know that because when butter is hard and chilled, it all pretty much tastes the same.
Perhaps that’s why in Europe, where everything tastes better, leaving butter on the countertop is standard practice.
How to leave butter out of the fridge: a few caveats.
1. If you do want to leave your butter out of the fridge, keep it covered with an air-tight lid, to inhibit the attraction of bacteria and keep it away from light, air, and other kitchen smells it can absorb (ew).
I also like this the the French ceramic covered butter keeper by Sawyer Ceramics, available from Food52 (at very top). It looks rustic but still elegant, and minimalist on any kitchen table.
2. Before you lose yourself in daydreams of exceptionally butter-saturated toast (I’m already there, sorry not sorry), do note that salted butter stored on the countertop is your best bet, because salt is a preservative. But it will still only last about two weeks, max, so consider keeping your unsalted butter in the fridge.
3. You ideally want a cool environment for butter if not a cold one. So if your home gets above 70 degrees in the summertime, it’s probably best to keep the butter in the fridge.Consider countertop or windowsill storage as more of a wintertime practice.
4. Just keep the amount you’ll need for a week’s worth of toast or dinner rolls out; you want the rest in the fridge anyway, not just for preservation but for a lot of baking recipes that require cold butter.
4. Worst case — do a smell check. If it’s gone bad, you’ll know it fast. Thanks to biology for that one.
A lot of rules, yes. But if you’re someone who burns through butter at lightning speed — the kind of someone with young children, perhaps? — then aside from the convenience and the added flavor, knowing you can let the kids butter their own toast unassisted, without turning it into a big mess of crumbs, makes the practice totally 100% worth conwidering.