Butter boards appear to have usurped the cheeseboard or charcuterie as the dinner party must-have. But what are they?
Essentially, they’re an aesthetically pleasing way to serve butter — a butter dish simply doesn’t cut it anymore, folks.
They are also an opportunity to elevate your butter game, add flavours and texture to the rich dairy product, and Instagram and TikTok users have been spreading the word.
What is a butter board?
More than just a TikTok trend, butter boards have the potential to be delicious and look stunning, with the added bonus that they’re incredibly easy to put together.
Artfully spread one or two blocks of butter onto a chopping board (ideally your most aesthetically pleasing wooden one), add a choice of flavours and toppings and serve it with the bread at the beginning of your meal. Diners then either scoop bread directly onto the board, covering their slice, or take a spoonful of the mixture to spread on their plate.
Consider it an opportunity to get creative, thinking about the flavours you have coming in subsequent courses and, for the visually focused, colours of the dishes you’re serving.
Add fresh or dried herbs, chilli, finely chopped fruits or vegetables (figs and red onions are particularly popular), and edible flowers, which have been a hit on social media.
You can also go sweet if you’re serving the butter board at brunch, whipping in some honey, cinnamon or icing sugar and topping it with anything from nuts to dried fruit or flakes of chocolate. They are incredibly indulgent, so go with your choice of rich, decadent flavours.
The popularity of the boards make sense. They’re cheaper to prepare than charcuterie boards and can be served alongside the meat and cheese selections. They are also versatile. Vegan versions are as easy as simply buying your choice of plant-based spread and eschewing the honey for agave in sweet takes.
Justine Doiron, a New York recipe developer, has been credited with the social media rise of butter boards, although she says she was inspired by Oregon chef Joshua McFadden.
“A butter board is the next charcuterie board trend. Don’t quote me on it — but if it happens … then you can quote me on it. I just love serving soft butter and warm bread at dinner parties,” Dorion wrote on her blog, Justine Snacks.
“This is just a fun way to have a new appetizer or starter on your table. Plus, it’s something your friends can get involved with.”
Dorion is clearly passionate about the dairy spread, so much so she has a plant named Butter.
“I think the draw is that it’s super customisable,” she told Associated Press. “You can be so creative with it, and people are always looking for something they’ve never seen before. It’s a low effort way to have some fun with food.”
For anyone serving a butter board in the UAE, temperature is an essential consideration. If you’re hosting indoors in an air-conditioned room, you have little to worry about but the boards won’t fare well in 25ºC-plus temperatures at your weekend barbecues. Either prepare ahead and keep the board in the fridge, taking it out to soften a few minutes before you’re serving the bread, or save the idea for a cooler night.
Butter board flavour combinations
A generous sprinkling of sea salt is the base of any butter board worth its stripes. From there, you can build your own flavour profile.
Doiron’s original board included lemon zest and dried edible flowers, then honey, fresh mint, ground coriander, ground cardamom and fresh basil. Her second take included fresh coriander and parsley, red onion thinly sliced and chilli oil. The recipe developer also suggested a board with roasted garlic cloves crushed into the butter, toasted rosemary and black pepper, and a final Mediterranean-style board used with chopped figs, honey or agave, cinnamon and fresh mint leaves.
Building the boards couldn’t be easier — simply take the blocks of butter at room temperature, spread them across the dish with a knife and generously scatter your choice of toppings.
For a Middle Eastern flavour profile use sumac, oregano, cumin, fresh mint, cucumber, tomato and parsley.
An Indian-style butter board, dubbed the Desi, was shared by Dhwani Mehta on her blog Cooking Carnival as a “perfect addition to your Diwali party menu”. Mehta used finely chopped bell peppers, chilli flakes, chaat masala and honey, scooped with naan bites.
Spin-off boards, using hummus, labneh or frosting
It’s been less than six weeks since butter boards made a splash on TikTok and Instagram, but there are already spin-offs.
The frosting board was an early sweet take, with vanilla extract mixed in and topped with icing sugar, fruit, sprinkles or sweeties for people to DIY their desserts, scooping the mixture onto bare cupcakes, pretzels or cookies.
This example is a sweet vegan treat:
Brands have also been getting involved, case in point Magnolia Bakery with a distinctly un-vegan frosting board.
Dulce de leche boards have also taken off, with biscuits, fruit and wafers to dunk.
The hummus board has also emerged topped with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, parsley and olive oil.
Another Middle Eastern take is the labneh board with zataar, olives, mint and olive oil, as well as fresh vegetables to dip in to the strained yogurt.
A savoury take is the cream cheese board, which is much of a muchness with the butter board, but a more breakfast and bagel-friendly spread.
In essence, anything you can spread — guacamole, blue cheese, jam, yogurt — could be a board of its own with the right combination of toppings.
Butter board criticism
The food trend is certainly not immune to criticism. In fact, the dishes are positively polarising.
Hygiene has been a primary worry. We’re still living in a pandemic, so communal food is not always the most sensible option, so avoid double dipping the bread and use cutlery where possible.
There are also bacterial concerns. Forbes highlighted research from the Journal of Food Protection that proves “bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Listeria innocua, L monocytogenes, and Salmonella typhimurium can stay and multiply in wooden cutting boards”.
Dietitians have also raised concerns about the calories in the boards and the fact that scooping it often results in a larger portion of the high-fat spread.
“It’s important to consider frequency and alternatives when assessing an individual food,” Lilian Cheung, a nutrition lecturer at Harvard, told Newsweek. “If butter is a ‘sometimes food’ that is eaten infrequently … it would be fine if the individual does not have any health risk related to saturated fat.”
Updated: October 29, 2022, 4:22 AM