A butter dish is a small dish, sometimes covered, used on the dining table to hold a pat or individual scrolls of butter. It has been used as a way of keeping butter since the 19th century.
The butter dish comes in different forms, some keeping the butter suspended over ice chips, others have a metal slot or rack to hold a butter spreader horizontal to the table- ready for use, some have a simple cover, and there are those that are just simple dishes. Butter dishes have also been made in varying materials through the years, such as, crystal, china, silver and ceramic.
Historically, if the moulded butter was round, the dish that held it was also round in shape. Thus, for handmade butter, the typical butter dish was round. But, once machine-made quarter-pound sticks of butter and butter substitutes became common, the popularity of the round one-pound butter dish gave way to the elongated butter stick dish most commonly seen today.
A French butter dish is a type of butter dish that is used to maintain the freshness and spread-ability of butter. Traditionally, this butter dish is crafted out of clay, it has two parts: a base that holds water, and a cup to hold the packaged butter, which also serves as a lid. The cup containing butter is placed into the base, where water creates an airtight seal that keeps the air away from the butter so it remains cool.
A particularly exceptional and understated type of butter dish is the silver shell butter dish. Silver butter shells have been crafted since the early 18th century. The butter shells were realistically modelled on scallop shells. They were made with either two or three, often simple, ball feet.
Although butter may not have the luxury status it once had, the butter dish has not gone out of popularity. While originally butter dishes were used to keep butter cool in the absence of refrigerators, today they are used because butter tends to become too cool in most fridges. The general consensus is that the butter dish obtains the perfect temperature and freshness for a tasteful and effective spread.