Malcolm Jolley keeps his butter soft à la Provençal…

Norpro Marble Butter Keeper | $52 | Hopson Grace

This Christmas a kind and generous relative gave my wife and me a gift certificate at the fancy kitchen and dining room shop in Summerhill, Hopson Grace. It was a perfect gift. We’d had our eye on a serving bowl, which we snatched up in the Boxing Day sales and had some extra room to acquire something else. Not sure what to get, one of the staff asked if we had a ‘French butter keeper’, and we replied we had a Le Creuset butter dish but the handle on the lid had broken off. That’s not what she meant, our friendly helper replied: they were out of stock of French butter keepers, but expected a ship in any day, and in the mean time she showed us a picture of an attractive marble pot and explained how it worked. We were sold, and in a few days we were stuffing butter into the top of our new keeper and filling the bottom with a centimetre or so of cold water.

The French butter keeper is an ingenious way to keep butter at room temperature without it going bad. The design is thought to come from the pottery centre of Vallauris, a Riviera town between Cannes and Antibes. To the north, in France’s butter country, Normans make a rival claim; there doesn’t seem to be any definitive word on the origin. More likely this is a technology that naturally evolved wherever people ate butter but was largely lost to the age of ice boxes and then refrigerators. The way it works is butter is packed into a cup on the inside of the lid, and stored upside down in a cylindrical vessel filled with small amount of water. The water forms a seal, limiting the butter’s contact with oxygen, which keeps the butter from going rancid. As long as the water is kept fresh by exchanging it every few days the butter will keep outside of the fridge, so the kitchen enjoys an ever ready supply of soft spreadable butter. It’s a game changer.

The French butter keeper we bought from Hopson Grace is fancy and made of marble, but a quick search of the internet shows there are others made from pottery that cost less. When we first got it, our kids were grossed out about the idea of watery butter; I guess they’re too young to remember butter balls served in bowls of ice water in the 80’s. Butter fat repels water, of course, so the butter isn’t watery at all and I find the consistency a little firmer than butter kept on the counter in a simple closed dish. In any event, it’s a treat to spread fresh butter on a slice of bread right from the counter.