What is a ‘butter board’ and how would I even eat that?

<span>Photograph: carrollphoto/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: carrollphoto/Getty Images

Alyx, I keep seeing TikToks of people smooshing butter onto a chopping board. Why is this happening?

Ah, Calla, I see you are one of the 1.2 million people who follow recipe creator Justine Doiron.

You know the saying: “If you come for the king, you’d best not miss?” Well, last month Doiron took a shot at deposing charcuterie boards from their place on the millennial dinner party throne, and it seems her camera-ready blend of softened butter, herbs, zest and edible flowers managed to hit its target.

Since she posted the short video, the hashtag #ButterBoard has racked up 180m views, as thousands of people have attempted their own.

Also, Google search interest in “butter boards” has literally gone from zero to 100.

How are you meant to eat that?

If you want to destroy one of these picture-perfect creations by putting it in your mouth, you’ve got two options.

You can either scoop some of it up with a knife and smear it on your bread like a sad loser, or you can just dredge your baguette slice – or radish – right through the artful arrangement like an elegant free spirit, sipping natural wine at a Michi-starred neo-bistro in the French countryside. (But don’t do this in front of an actual French person, they would probably rather you use the knife.)

Wait, how is it replacing charcuterie, in the American sense of the word? They seem to use it as a synonym for anything from a share plate to some kind of horn of plenty buffet table. Is this not just another kind of not-really-charcuterie board?

While charcuterie has lately been used as a catchall for most non-bouquet forms of edible arrangement (nightmarish charcuterie chalets; grazing tables stretching right to the horizon), they do tend to share a common element. It’s the thing Australians think of when we think of charcuterie: smoked and cured meats.

Which isn’t to say you couldn’t spice up your butter board with a few swirls of spicy nduja (so cheugy you can find the recipe on Woolies); but the meat isn’t mandatory.

Precious as a plate of high-end butter studded with nasturtiums and drizzled with honey may appear, Doiron has posited it as a less fussy alternative to the charcuterie extended universe. Given that last Christmas Martha Stewart Living suggested people might like to attempt constructing tiled roofs out of salami, she might be right.

OK, no meat, that makes sense, but why do this instead of just eating bread and butter in the ordinary way?

The butter board fulfils the same need as a charcuterie board: it’s an appetiser that requires no cooking; looks expensive and photogenic; and can be served with a sliced baguette. But it’s quicker and much cheaper than reconstructing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel out of coppa. Also, vegetarians can eat it.

That’s why some iteration of the butter board has existed on the menus of many fancy restaurants for many years, it’s just taken a TikTok for home cooks to notice.

We may be frequenting different restaurants. How long has this been a thing?

Well the recipe that inspired Doiron was from Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg’s 2017 hit slow food cookbook Six Seasons, but in French homes they were dredging radishes through softened, salted butter long before the Wayback Machine started archiving our food pictures (though it took until 2022 for BuzzFeed to declare that ultra-minimalist version of a butter board the snack of the summer).

Basically, any time you’re served prettied-up, softened butter with some bread and other things to schmear through it, it’s the same concept. The main difference is whether said butter is contained in a ramekin or patted across a flat surface. I’ve had it served both ways, the butter spiked with herbs, chilli, honey, nuts and occasionally all three, and paid between $6 and $32 for the privilege. It’s pretty much all been delicious. But only one presentation style allows you to repurpose that expensive marble board you bought in 2017. Back then Joshua McFadden may have already been smooshing up butter at his restaurant in Portland, but online Instagrammable cheese plates reigned supreme.