Wait, you can actually freeze butter?

A butter shortage is looming. Here's a guide for how to best store your butter for later use

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published October 12, 2022 11:00AM (EDT)

An unwrapped pat of butter on its wrapper (Hussey, Clinton)
An unwrapped pat of butter on its wrapper (Hussey, Clinton)

My baking group chat is abuzz: Dairy production is down, milk prices are up and it looks like there may be a butter shortage looming on the horizon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) backs up the whispers, stating in its weekly "Dairy Market News at a Glance" newsletter that "in the Northeast and West, butter inventories are tight." It's disconcerting news given that holiday baking season doesn't really begin in earnest for another month.

However, I'm here with some good news: Butter lasts a long time in the refrigerator. It lasts an even longer time when properly stored in the freezer. Now, the word "properly" is doing a lot of work in that last sentence. No one wants to make gingerbread cookies with freezer-burned butter. But no worries — here's a guide for how to best store your butter for later use and make sure it tastes the same as the day you bought it.

How long does butter last in the refrigerator?

Butter (opened or unopened) can be kept in the refrigerator for one to three months, according to the USDA. This comes with its advantages — namely that your butter will last longer there than in a countertop butter bell or crock — as well as its disadvantages for everyday use.

"Butter has what is known as a narrow plastic range, which means that it doesn't spread when it's cold — it shatters," Stephen Chavez, a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, previously told Salon Food. "Because of this, we have to take it out of the fridge and keep it at room temperature in order for it to be creamy and usable. Butter is [also] susceptible to absorbing odors and flavors, as well as the possibility of bacterial spoilage. So, an air-tight container will be great to prevent both. If butter is left open in an area that has other food products, it can affect the flavor of the butter greatly."

How long does butter last in the freezer?

Per a blog post from the legacy butter company Land O Lakes, "Butter freezes very well."

"So feel free to fill your freezer," the post continues. "It's not unusual behavior to stock up on butter, as running out of butter can be a hassle. Freezing butter is a very good way to avoid this inconvenience.

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The USDA recommends freezing your butter for no longer than one year, after which the texture and flavor will begin to change. To keep the flavor at its freshest, U.S. Dairy and Land O Lakes both recommend only freezing it for four to five months.

What is the best way to store refrigerated and frozen butter?

To prevent your butter from picking up any stray flavors or freezer burn, airtight storage containers are key. For the refrigerator, you may like something classic like a butter dish or a "butter box" with a lid. For freezing, you want to keep your butter wrapped and boxed, then place it in a freezer-safe container or a resealable plastic bag.

Do I have to do anything special to bake with frozen butter?

While there are certain recipes that actually call for frozen butter — it's great grated into pie crust and biscuits, for instance! — it's best to bring frozen butter down to room temperature before baking or cooking with it. After bringing your butter down to room temperature, don't refreeze it. Instead, use it within 30 days for the best flavor.

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By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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