If you're anything like me, you've never given a second thought to the wrappings on your butter. That was, until I pulled a stick out to make Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies a few weeks ago. The stick of butter I had wasn't old—it was well within its expiration date—but it just wasn't fresh any longer. It had a faint scent of broccoli—I did have steamed veggies in my fridge the week before—and it looked a little discolored around the edges, especially after cutting into it. How could it be that a never-opened stick of butter was "bad"?
Truthfully, it's not bad. The stick of butter is still entirely useable, and in any recipe where it's providing moisture, but not real flavor, it could have been fine. However, in a recipe where the butter's flavor is meant to really shine or when it's used alone on toast or biscuits, you need good butter. And good butter comes wrapped in aluminum foil.
The air in your fridge carries faint scents and odors from foods you have stored, and porous foods like butter, fruit, and bread can pick up those scents if they're not properly protected. Aluminum foil wrappings are less penetrable than the parchment and wax paper wrapping you see on most sticks. That means the butter in the package stays fresher longer and is less likely to pick up unwanted odors.
The butter section of the dairy aisle is pretty modest when you compare it to the yogurt section, but it's growing—and it's growing specifically because healthy cooks are becoming hip to the idea that butter, when used deliberately, delivers delicious nuttiness that just isn't rivaled by olive oil, or any oil for that matter. Pricier butter brands like Kerrygold and Plugra wrap their spreads with aluminum to protect their high-quality product.
Does that mean you should only use these brands with heftier price tags? Absolutely not. When it comes to butter, invest your dollars wisely. If you're just cooking with the fat, using it to sauté vegetables or brown chicken, your stand-by stick will work beautifully. But when it's time for the butter to be the star of the dish, pull out the good stuff.
Storage Tips: You can protect even the less-expensive sticks of butter from unwanted odorous additions by wrapping them in aluminum foil until you're ready to use them. Likewise, store any sticks of butter that have been cut into in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container to prevent odor absorption. Still, be sure to wrap well with plastic wrap or aluminum to prevent air from drying out the stick. If you use a spreadable butter, don't toss that all-important aluminum wrapper that separates the butter from the lid. It will help stop air from seeping in, even after the container is opened.