In the past two weeks, butter has been smeared, swooped and spread across all manner of surfaces, and social media, in the name of the butter board.
Not to be confused with a charcuterie board, this is exactly what it sounds like. It’s butter, and it’s on a board.
A communal butter board is less recipe, more technique: Soften some butter, then feather it out on a wooden cutting board or a slate or marble cheese platter.
Then, drizzle some honey. Grate some lemon zest. Scatter some edible flowers or some chile flakes. Add figs, maybe radishes. That, and flaky salt, artfully mask reality. Serve it with bread.
“This is essentially a glorified stick of butter,” said Justine Doiron, a recipe developer in New York who blogs under the name Justine Snacks.
When Ms. Doiron posted a 28-second video of her preparing a “butter board” to TikTok earlier this month, she was simply contributing to the cannon of trendy, board-based recipes that have gone on to find enormous audiences thanks to the platform’s mysterious, star-making algorithm.
The butter board, a smaller-format heir apparent to grazing tables, is perhaps a little infantilizing: We’ll eat off anything. And as eaters become more comfortable with communal dining two and a half years into a pandemic, the resurgence of shareable recipes comes as little surprise. The butter board is an augur of feasts to come.
Savory or sweet, a butter board is a pretty centerpiece, and the pretty is the point. But its simplicity is, perhaps, the real draw.
“It’s a more humble way of entertaining,” said Ms. Doiron, whose video has been viewed more than 8.4 million times. “Charcuterie boards have gotten so fussy and so done.”
Though she may have been the butter board’s digital midwife, Ms. Doiron credits the chef and cookbook author Joshua McFadden with the idea.
A butter board appears in his James Beard Award-winning 2017 book “Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables,” which he wrote with Martha Holmberg.
He first served one at a dinner on a farm for about 150 people. “Everyone was like, ‘What are you doing with all this butter?’” he said.
The chef recommends using room temperature butter. “Don’t try to make it all taste the same,” Mr. McFadden said. “Find pockets of sweetness, pockets of salt.”
Salted butter is safe to leave out for four hours at room temperature, said Benjamin Chapman, the department head of agricultural and human sciences at North Carolina State University. Unlike the average American who prefers to keep their butter at much cooler temperatures, people in many other Western countries often leave butter out on the counter for easy spreading.
“This is not something that would make my top 20 list or top 50 of risky things,” Dr. Chapman said of butter boards.
Supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation are driving up dairy prices, but butter sales are higher compared with 2019 levels, industry experts said. Butter boards arrived on the heels of another dairy-based TikTok trend: making over-the-top compound butters.
As for butter boards, Big Butter is a big fan.
“We love it, of course,” said Heather Arfang, the senior vice president of Land O’ Lakes’ dairy foods business.
Since the trend is young, she said, “it’s hard to do a real cause-and-effect on the volumes in that short period.” But, Ms. Arfang added, “our demand for butter has been very strong. This month, we have well blown away our forecast.”
Almost a dozen woodworking Etsy sellers said they saw visits to their sites skyrocket after Ms. Doiron posted her video. Some savvy entrepreneurs have even started customizing their standard cutting boards with “Butter Board” in curling script — good for search engine optimization.
In the past two weeks, online visits to Benjamin Blakeley’s Etsy shop, Tobins Woodworking, have risen by 400 percent, he said.
“It’s simple, it’s fun, it’s artistic,” Mr. Blakeley said of the trend.
Like all TikTok food trends, professional content creators and home cooks are making it their own. Holly Haines, a recipe developer in San Diego, Calif., who isn’t quite ready to double dip, has offered an ouroboros of takes: Use focaccia as the board.
“It’s definitely just bread and butter,” Ms. Haines admitted.
Here are some things to consider when making your own butter board:
The type of board matters. A wood cutting board may look rustic, but that gets gunky quickly. Place parchment paper over the board for easier cleanup, or opt for a marble or slate surface.
Utensils are your friend. Set out knives alongside so guests don’t treat the butter board like, well, hummus. (Ms. Doiron said the “biggest mistake” in her video was tearing off a piece of bread to dip into the butter.)
Soften naturally. The fat and milk solids in butter can separate when microwaved, so leave the stick out for about an hour ahead of plating. If you’re tight on time, you can always try body heat.
Treat butter like frosting. Use the back of a spoon or an offset spatula to swirl it the way you would frost a layer cake.