Let's get the inconvenient facts out of the way:
Therefore: if we care enough about food quality to put excellent bread on the table, and we're going to serve butter anyway, why not just buy the best and serve it right? So let's talk about how to serve butter at the table.
A stick of butter straight out of the refrigerator is impossible to spread nicely. It either parks on the bread in unattractive lumps or tears holes in the surface. You can put the stick onto a butter dish and let it sit out at room temperature until it softens a bit, which is what most of us do—if we happen to think of it among all our other cooking and serving activities before the guests have already arrived at the table.
Well, this can be one less thing to worry about remembering in the future.
Butter existed long before refrigeration was commonplace, so preservation techniques had been a matter of interest to butter consumers for a long time. The French devised an excellent solution in the late nineteenth century, so excellent that it has yet to be surpassed by more modern technology. That solution is the French butter crock or bell.
This type of butter dish has two parts: a base that holds water, and a top consisting of an inverted cup that holds butter. You simply pack soft butter into the cup, fill the base partway with cold water, place the cup butter-surface down into the water so an airtight seal keeps the butter fresh, and leave the crock on your table. As long as the room isn't tropically warm and you change the water every few days, the butter in the cup will stay fresh and spreadable for several weeks.
Manufactured butter crocks come in a variety of styles and are usually designed to hold exactly one stick (or half a cup) of butter, for convenience in transferring commercially available brands from wrapper to table. Many ceramic artists also create handmade butter crocks.
So all you need to do is find a butter crock you like, put butter in the cup and water in the base, and leave it on the table. Just check it before the guests arrive to make sure your family hasn't finished off the entire container.
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