A Better Butter Board

Tufts experts weigh in on the season’s most decadent party trend, just in time for your holiday gatherings

When a “butter board” trend took off on TikTok and Instagram this fall, Julia Hallman, A06, could tell. “That’s when more people started coming in and asking for butter-related items and pairings,” says the Tufts alumna, who is the owner of Formaggio Kitchen's three locations and general manager of the Cambridge store. Not every social media fad is apparent in the aisles of the specialty grocer, but the rise of the butter board was unmistakable. “I think this one really caught on and made sense for a lot of people,” she adds.

The principle is simple enough: Instead of building a cheese or charcuterie platter for a gathering, just slather a board with butter, sprinkle with some garnishes, and serve it with bread alongside. But Hallman—a specialty food expert who has sampled some of the world’s best butters—says that it’s important to choose ingredients carefully.

Not all butters are created equal. “The number one factor is the quality of the cream,” says Hallman. “Having something sourced from a dairy that has a good reputation, and generally a smaller production, is what I look for.” There are also different genres to consider: European-style butters tend to have a lower moisture content than their American counterparts, so they will be richer, fattier, and more intense. “It’s a little more challenging for butter-makers to get that low moisture, so you don’t see it quite as often—but it’s definitely an aspect I look for,” Hallman says.

Some butters are also cultured, meaning they’re made using live microbes; those will provide a more unique, cheese-like flavor profile (Hallman recommends a cultured butter from Ploughgate Creamery in Vermont). Finally, there’s the matter of salt. Hallman suggests using unsalted (a.k.a. “sweet”) butter if you have an interesting salt to sprinkle as a garnish. If not, you might spring for a butter with fleur de sel folded in, such as Rodolphe le Meunier salted butter from France—the alumna’s all-time favorite.

Next, select accoutrements. “I always like to see balance on any board, whether it’s cheese, charcuterie, or butter,” says Hallman. “If you have a product that’s really fatty and rich, you want to balance it with items that are lighter and more acidic to cut through the fat.” Her favorite butter pairings include clean, crisp breakfast (or French) radishes and cornichons or other pickled veggies like fennel “carpaccio,” which is preserved in olive oil with a hint of lemon juice. Finally, crusty bread—the perfect vehicle for butter—is a must.

According to Hannah Wolf, a clinical dietitian at Tufts Medical Center, you might also consider ways to add nutrients to your butter board. “From a health and nutrition standpoint, eating a ton of butter is not the best way to get your nutrients in,” Wolf says. Like cheese and charcuterie, butter is high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease—but unlike those party platter staples, it doesn’t have much protein, so it’s not as satiating. And with around 100 calories per tablespoon, she adds, butter "packs a lot of calories in a small amount.” Depending on what your health goals are, it may not be the most optimal choice to be eating all the time. Moderation is key.” (Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to roughly 5 to 10 percent of your total daily calories.)

Wolf suggests complementing the board with high-fiber, whole-grain bread alongside, and sprinkling the butter with ample herbs and spices to benefit from their antioxidant and polyphenol content. Another idea is to serve the butter as one component of a board alongside alternatives like hummus, strained yogurt, or even little ramekins of high-quality olive oil. “I’m all about adding nutrients where you can and still enjoying the foods you like,” she says. Sometimes, a “restricting” mindset can actually increase cravings for the foods we try to avoid, she adds, so indulging once in a while might help satisfy those cravings.

When it comes to preparing and serving the board, Hallman points out that timing is important. The butter needs to be warmed just enough so it’s spreadable—but it shouldn’t be served too warm. So, once the butter is spread and designed on the platter, pop it back in the fridge for an hour or so before guests arrive to firm it up again. By the time you can take it out and add accoutrements, it will be at the perfect temperature. According to Wolf, there is a slight risk of bacterial contamination with butter boards, especially when they’re shared with many people, so immunocompromised individuals may want to avoid them. 

Hallman stresses that the board doesn’t have to be elaborate, complicated, or even celebratory. “It’s an easy dinner option, to be honest,” she says. “Especially during the holidays, I kind of do my own version—just to have the bread and butter be the highlight, and then add little accoutrements.” That’s because beyond being a TikTok trend, the butter board is inspired by timeless pairings. Besides, says Hallman, “everybody loves butter.”

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