Butter can pick up odors from nearby foods. Which containers offer the best protection to keep it tasting fresh?
Published Dec. 16, 2021.
We’ve long advocated for storing butter in airtight containers. We especially like two models. The LocknLock Rectangular Food Container can be used to store butter in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It resembles a standard food storage container, but it’s cleverly designed to be used upside down—the “lid” doubles as a tray with a flat cutting surface. If you like having softened butter on hand and want a more elegant storage container that’s intended exclusively for use at room temperature, we suggest a butter bell. Most models are quite similar in size and shape, but we had a slight preference for the Original Butter Bell Crock because it’s spacious and the knob on its lid is large and easy to grasp.
In the test kitchen, we fly through cases of butter. But at home, when we’re cutting off a tablespoon here and there, a single stick can last days or even weeks. During that time, butter can absorb flavors and odors from nearby foods if it’s not stored properly.
Butter storage containers come in two main styles—dishes and bells—and we tested both. The dishes had a surprising number of extra features, including measurement markings, flip-top lids, matching butter knives, and special walls (sometimes called ramps) for wiping knives clean. Butter bells, which originated in France, are intended for use only at room temperature. You pack softened butter into the bell-shaped dish before inserting it upside down into a crock filled with a small amount of water, forming an airtight seal. The water must be changed every few days to keep the butter fresh and prevent mold growth.
To compare the advantages of the two styles and to see which models kept butter freshest for longest, we ran two storage tests. First, we tested a copy of every model at room temperature. Then we tested a second copy of each of the butter dishes in the refrigerator (the bells are not meant for refrigerator use). For each test, we outfitted the containers with freshly unwrapped sticks of butter. At the same time, as a control, we monitored the freshness of two sticks of butter wrapped in the parchment they came in, one refrigerated and one at room temperature. Over several weeks, we checked all the butters daily, looking for signs of spoilage and sampling for rancidity; funky off-flavors acquired from nearby food; and a stale, “fridge-y” taste.
Every container protected butter better than the original parchment wrappers did; the wrappers tore and became impossible to reseal tightly, causing the butter to pick up off-flavors. At room temperature, the best storage dishes and bells kept butter fresh for about two ...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.