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Storing Dairy.. but not in the Fridge???

I've just read an article which made me seriously reconsider all I knew about temperature modes of dairy storage.


Specifically, the author claims that the French... do NOT put their eggs (or butter, or cheese) in the fridge. Supposedly, the former are porous and thus will "soak up all the smells" and the latter is going to be "suffocated".

Well, last time I checked storage guidelines, you *were* supposed to put eggs in the fridge. Are there any French people in the forum to clarify the situation? In a related question, should I assume the worst when I visit a French restaurant?

Thank you

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  1. Eggs do not have to be refrigerated, especially if they have not been refrigerated before sale. They just age faster if unrefrigerated. It is common to sell eggs unrefrigerated in parts of Europe. You buy them as you need them. And use them.

    Butter and cheese do not have to be refrigerated. Actually, cheese can suffer in the 40F temperature of a refrigerator; it's really meant to be kept at an old-fashioned cellar temperature. Butter is perfectly fine if kept out of the light and away from heat; it softens at temps over 68F.

    Eggs, butter and cheese are all ancient foodstuffs, long antedating modern refrigeration. Butter and cheese are in fact ancient ways of extending the life of milk/cream by short-term preservation.

    It may help to remember the climate in certain parts of France is much different than many parts of the US, and central climate control is not as universal. So room temps can be cooler than many homes in the US.

    American storage guidelines take into account (1) the climate conditions common in many parts of the US, and (2) the American consumers' preference to stock up in quantity when there are sales rather than buying food as needed on a daily or similar basis. They also reflect a bit of obsessive compulsiveness about food handling, but I'll forego the rant on that subject.

    1. I should add that I agree completely about not putting certain foods in the fridge: for example, uncooked tomatoes should never be subjected to temps below 55F if you can help it -- it damages their flavor. This is also true for certain other products.

      1. I lived on a farm when I was young. We had our own chickens and never put their eggs in the fridge. The only time we refrigerated butter was in the summer, as we lived in an old, un-airconditioned house.

        1. All this is true unless you:

          -live somewhere very warm. I used to leave things out all the time in San Francisco, but wouldn't dream of doing it during this 90 degree heat wave we're having in SF (edit: not SF, I now live in sweltering LA).

          -don't get things fresh. Like mentioned above, if you're going to eat dairy, eggs, or butter fairly quickly you can leave them out. Supermarket products have been shipped cross country, left in warehouses, refrigerated, unrefrigerated, refrigerated again, and who knows what else. By the time they reach you they could be a month old already.

          I don't refrigerate eggs if I buy them at the farmers' market, and I leave out a few tablespoons of butter at night if I know I'm going to need them the next morning. Again, this does not apply during a heat wave.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Pei

            It's 90 degrees where you are in SF? Where?! All I can see is fog and would love to get the sun back that we had several weeks ago. Enjoy the 4th in your hot, little micro-climate, I am jealous and freezing in mine!

            1. re: rabaja

              oops, I mean I used to live in SF, now it's 90 in LA.

          2. I never refrigerate eggs, and I'd prefer not to refrigerate butter, but I find it does go off a lot faster when left out. Someone I used to know had a butter dish where you put the butter into a cup, then invert that cup into a slightly larger cup containing water. The water acts as a seal and prevents spoilage, and you still don't have to refrigerate. But I've never seen one of these things anywhere. Anyone here have any experience with these?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kagey

              I use only unsalted butter as that's what I use in baking (and now don't like the salted butter they give you in restaurants), so I do refrigerate it as it goes off faster.

            2. A comment from the other side. I refrigerate all products from animals, from eggs, to cheese, to milk, to butter.

              vegetables are a different story, i agree that tomatoes stay in a bowl on the counter. my family throws them in the fridge and i pull them out. i understand that the starches tend to come out in tomatoes in that temperature and they age way too fast.

              1. Kagey

                Butter bells are widely available in kitchen supply stores and on the Internet.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Karl S

                  Thanks, Karl. I didn't know what they were called. I'll have a look!

                2. Eggs age five days at room temp for every 1 day in the fridge. Either way they last at least weeks.

                  If you are making hard boiled eggs it is a good idea to leave them out on the counter (upside down in their carton) for a night or two. This ages them and makes them much easier to peel.

                  1. Harold McGee, my authority on all such things, says that, in the US at least, it's best to buy eggs cold and keep them cold. He also says that salmonella, although not prevalent in our eggs, develops more quickly in room-temperature eggs.

                    1. Well my chickens lay my eggs fresh and at room temp. So perhaps you should take that into consideration. The chances of any egg having salmonella is so slim I take my chances.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Becca Porter

                        But the egss most of us buy in a supermarket have been washed and chilled and refrigerated during shipping.

                        I just returned from some time in Guatemala where eggs are sold at room temp and stored at room temp. I certainly never had any problems with them.

                        Perhaps the answer is that if they've been refrigerated, keep them so. If not, it's not necessary. Although, as you pointed out, they will age more quickly at room temp.

                      2. all fats pick up flavors. I shudder when I go into the walkin at work and find the pastry items ( pies, cookies, etc) that have been put in to cool down. They are in rolling carts right next to the prepped bell peppers and onions for tomorrrow's omelette station. Ugh! Unfortunately the baker doesn't have a separate walkin to use.

                        Using an olla (say 'oye-yah')is a pioneer-days method of cooling foods.These jars were often placed on open windowsills and became primative evaporative coolers before swamp coolers (fan-driven evaporative coolers) or AC in pioneer days.Big unglazed clay jar, fill 2/3 with cold water, place wrapped food items inside, place jar in cool spot. The water slowly evaporates, and the jar stays cool, keeping butter cool.

                        Sort of the same principle used in butter bells where the butter is packed into an inverted cup and suspended in a small container of cool water. They work well in my kitchen when the indoor temps are below 80.

                        1. During warmer weather, Americans also would use spring boxes to immerse foods in cool brooks or streams or wells. But that only kept the food at a cellar-like temperature in the upper 50s at best, and not unsimilar to room temps in parts of Europe for much of the year without central climate control.

                          In addition to tomatoes, other vegetables that should not be refrigerated are members of the onion and potato family, as it induces a false winter and thus starts the growth process. Berries also loose flavor when kept at usual US frig temps.

                          1. When i lived in Ireland in the mid-90's we never put the butter or eggs in the fridge. I suspected that eating them might kill me (to say nothing of the little boxes of irradiated milk that were also stored at room temperature until opened). But, i didn’t not want to be rude, so I tucked in and, apparently, survived. The ambient temperature there is so much cooler than my native Louisiana and i suspect that perishables left out during the summer would not only perish themselves but bring their tasters down with them.

                            But, i do miss that fantastic, soft Irish butter on fresh bread cooked in the broiler. At least we have biscuits.

                            1. Europe has been in the grip of an extraordinary heat wave the last few weeks. I can assure you that they're throwing out (or refrigerating) lots of eggs and cheese. Keeping these items at room temp only works in moderate climates (which France used to have --go Al Gore!!).