(Bloomberg) — Imagine you were a stick of butter in 2022. The beginning of the year would’ve been ordinary enough. But around summertime, things would’ve gotten chaotic. Your price in the UK would’ve begun to climb dramatically enough—30%—to make headlines and to become a talking point in the cost-of-living crisis. In the fall, people in the US would worry you’d gotten too expensive ahead of prime baking season.
But the year’s most unexpected twist would’ve been when you found yourself spread on all manner of nonfood surfaces and headlining an unlikely food trend: the butter board.
Indeed, TikTok enthusiasts made it a very big year for butter. They showed the world innumerable ways to serve the dairy product, first by swirling it around on some version of a board, then by adding garnishes that ranged from appetizing—radishes, toast—to ridiculous, such as unripe strawberries (because the trend blasted off in October, way past true berry season in most parts of the US).
I’m a butter fanatic. It was, in fact, the behind-the-scenes star of the best dishes I ate this year, from the browned butter that takes a chocolate tart over the top at Perilla in London, to the melted stream pulling together the salted egg dressing that flavors fried chicken at Brooklyn’s Pecking House.
It’s just the absurdity of a butter board as a new holiday party trick that makes it untenable to me. A pile of good butter with accouterments certainly has a place on a restaurant table—the trend seems to have officially gotten its start via chef Joshua McFadden in Oregon. He created butter-slathered planks for farm dinners as a way to highlight seasonal ingredients and different breads. It’s fine when you’re at a table with people you’ve chosen to eat with, as well as a great opportunity to show off the outstanding varieties of butter available on store shelves. And yes, it’s a less expensive way to outfit a board than with cheese or charcuterie.
But the concept of putting out a platter of room-temperature butter(s) at a party and having innumerable people coming through and swiping? It’s hard to think of something less palatable (not to mention hygienic) than that. And then there’s the issue of cleaning up the greasy mess afterward.
Still not over the #butterboard trend (Original idea by Joshua McFadden via Justine Snacks) ???? #pumpkinbutter #brownbutter #butterboards #pumpkinseason #recipes
♬ original sound – Nadia Aidi
But, some will ask, is TikTok the real problem? Isn’t the trending agent what’s at fault here?
I say no. TikTok is responsible for proliferating any number of bad food trends—just this year, we have it to blame for spreading the word about Nyquil-infused sleepy chicken and healthy Coke. And for creating time-sucking, viral videos touting “pink sauce” and “it’s a chicken salad.”
Still, I believe it’s also a powerful force for good in the food world. It will remind some of us of the early days of the Food Network in the 1990s and, specifically, the rise of Emeril Lagasse. Did the omnipresent shout of “Bam!” get tiresome? Did people start overseasoning all their food with the Creole spices Lagasse promoted? Did too many dinner parties become wannabe cooking shows? Yes, yes, yes. But Lagasse in particular and early food TV stars in general got the public excited to talk about food, and interested in the process of preparing it, in a way that hadn’t happened since the heyday of Julia Child. And by extension, home cooking became a much more popular pastime. (Food TV also ushered in the era of the celebrity chef, but that’s another story.)
Likewise, TikTok has spurred a new generation of people to make dishes they might’ve once just ordered in, and to create content with it. Dalgona coffee was a great way to get people excited about instant coffee when resources were limited in the early days of the pandemic. Baked feta pasta is a legit delicious and simple way to make a cheese and tomato sauce for noodles.
Just, please, not the butter board.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.