It happened more than a few years ago. My mother received a gift from a friend that looked more like a magic box of sorts than anything you might want to use with food. She explained that the butter would rest suspended in the bell portion while water, about 1/4-1/2 inch filled the bottom. With a scrunched up forehead and cocked head of confoundedness I thought to myself, *What in the heck?*.
Well, time passed and I came to realize that while I use butter quite frequently with my cooking, having soft, spreadable butter was a missing component as I wanted my quality French or high butter fat butter at room temperature from time to time, and I did not want the spreadable tubs found in the refrigerated section at the grocer which also (or only) contained margarine. My mind drifted back to my introduction to the butter bell from years past. Come to find out, the butter bell, or keeper or crock (here are a few other names: the french butter pot, the beurrier Breton, beurrier Normand, pot à beurre Breton and the beurrier à l’eau), originated in France.
A quick history lesson: Said to have been created in the late 19th century in Vallauris, France, as they are known for their pottery (however, Brittany, or Normandy have also been mentioned as the possible place of genesis as each destination is known for their butter), the pottery container consists of two parts: a lid which resembles a bell, in which you pack the butter into; and the base, which the lid is placed into which contains water, about 1/4 inch to a 1/2 an inch depending on how big your butter keeper is. The lid combined with the water creates an airtight seal which keeps oxygen out, thus negating the need for refrigeration, and thereby allowing the butter to remain spreadable.
Bon Appétit reported in 2016 that in fact when Food52 began selling their white porcelain version, seen in the picture below, it sold out in 12 hours. As well they shared that Julia Child herself used one, even though the butter keeper wasn’t fully introduced in the United States until the 1970s.
Why might you want to consider using one if you don’t already?
So long as temperatures do not exceed 80-85 degrees in your home (air conditioning is a must in the hot summer heat), and you change the water regularly (once a week), the butter can last at least a month, and you may be able to stretch that a bit if you use salted butter as salt is a preservative. Spreading onto freshly toasted baguette tartines and finishing with homemade jam is a cinch as the butter is at room temperature.
2. Simple serving dish
The beauty of the butter keeper is that it serves as a presentation dish as well. Simply take the bell out of the base, flip over and place on the table. It looks as though it was intended to be a bowl holding butter. And when finished, no need to dirty another dish, just flip it back over into the base which as water (about a 1/3 of the way up the sides of the base.
3. Two benefits in one
Not only will your butter not spoil, but it will be spreadable whenever the need arises to use butter. A two-fer!
Key Tips for Successful Butter Storage/Use:
- If using unsalted butter, put a pinch of salt in the water to prevent mold
- Keeps butter fresh for one month, so if you use butter frequently, this is perfect.
- Don’t feel the need to fill the entire bell up with butter. I fill my halfway up based on how much I typically use in a month.
- Only pure (ideally French *wink, wink*) butter will work as most spreadable butters found in the grocer have margarine and thus oil which doesn’t allow it to stay in the bell.
- Keep the house cool (no hotter than 80-85 degrees in the hot summer months). If you do not have air conditioning, some users have shared they actually do place their container in the refrigerator temporarily during the hot months.
- How much water – it will depend on your dish, but you want it as close to the butter without touching it.
- Change the water once a week.
- Remove any bread crumbs in the butter from previous use, to prevent mold from growing.
- Pack the butter into the bell before it gets too soft. I found that I took the butter right out of the refrigerator and pressed it in with ease, and it stayed put perfectly.
With all of this in mind, I was on the hunt for a French Butter Keeper, and as I shared on IG Stories during the first week of January, I found one and am enjoying its ease of use and the flavorful soft butter spread as well as being able to quickly make up compound butters with either fresh herbs, honey, or garlic just to name a few options.
So, is a French butter keeper for you?
~Food52 demonstrates how to use a French Butter Keeper well inthis video if you have never used one before.
~SHOP THE BUTTER KEEPERS FROM ABOVE:
~Food52, White Porcelain Butter Keeper
~Food52 French Ceramic Butter Keeper(two tone)
~James Sloss Pottery French butter dish (handmade by the potter himself, available in a variety of different hues)
~The Original, Butter Bell Crock by L. Tremain (white with blue writing)
~The Original, Butter Bell Crock by L. Tremain (13 colors available)
~Zoie & Chloe Butter Keeper Crock(yellow)
~American Mug Pottery, white
~VIEW FRENCH BUTTER KEEPERS BELOW: