Cream is the component of milk that is richest in fat globules. As such, if milk (raw or whole unprocessed milk) is left standing, cream will naturally rise to the top. Once the fatty component has risen to the top, this was usually skimmed off and separated, creating what we know as fresh cream today. Commercial cream nowadays is produced using centrifuges which spin the milk at high velocities, literally ripping the cream out of the milk, but I digress. People over the centuries have considered cream to be the best part of milk, this is due to its high fat content and… well… creaminess. Today, cream can be found in many cuisines and food preparations and is considered as an indulgent treat, again due to its high fat content.
- The expression ‘crème de la crème’ literally means cream of the cream, or best of the best, alluding to the fact that cream is the best part of milk.
- Another expression that shows the value people placed on cream is ‘cream of the crop’ which basically means the best produce of the batch.
- An organizational principle is many modern companies is ‘The cream always rises to the top’ again, alluding to how cream is the best part of milk and like it, the best employees will naturally get high positions.
- Cream must be cold to be whipped, if it’s not cold enough, there’s a chance that it will turn into butter.
- Ice cream is made by churning cream and flavorings in a container surrounded by ice, gradually freezing it while incorporating/trapping air in between the frozen particles.
Cream Buying Guide
I would dare say that there are more varieties of cream than there are of milk and after a while it gets confusing. I’ve seen recipes call for clotted cream or half-and-half or Chantilly, heavy cream, and so on. We’ll go over the different kinds of creams, their flavor profiles, and what they’re commonly used for.
- Half-and-half – This isn’t technically pure cream, as the name indicates it’s half-and-half. It is basically a mixture of half whole milk and half cream. This cannot be whipped into whipped cream and is usually used as a creamer for coffee. This can also be used as a replacement for heavy cream in recipes that call for it if less fat is desired without losing the creamy aspect of adding cream.
- Long Life Cream (UHT) – This is the most common type of cream that is found in supermarket shelves. This is your basic cream that has gone through Ultra Heat Treatment to basically sterilize it and allow for longer shelf life. A lot of people say that the UHT treatment kills off the natural flavor of the cream, but some will say it’s a good price to pay for convenience and making cream available anytime. This cream contains around 35% milkfat by volume, making it whip well and is a great option to thicken up soups and sauces.
- Heavy Cream or Heavy whipping cream – This cream has a fairly high level of milk fat with some gourmet brands offering up to 48% milkfat. Although, the average milk fat that’s common for this type of cream is around 36% to 40%. As the name states, this cream is perfect for making whipped cream and basically doubles in size easily when whipped.
- Single Cream – This is cream that has around 18% milk or roughly half of the milk fat contained in regular/long life cream.
- Light Cream – While uncommon, this can be found in some specialty stores. This is usually used as a beverage creamer in cases where people want something creamier than half-and-half. Milk fat content is around 20%.
- Clotted Cream – Very uncommon cream outside of farmers’ markets or specialty stores in the United States. This is also known as Devonshire or Devon Cream. This is made by indirectly heating full-cream milk and “clotting” the cream that floats to the top.
- Chantilly Cream – While it sounds so exotic and European, it’s basically vanilla-flavored whipped cream. This is great as an instant topping to many pastry desserts due to its sweetness and vanilla flavor.
- Crème Fraiche – This is fresh cream (as the name implies) that has a bacteria culture in it that gives it a slightly tart flavor profile. This is very popular with modern cuisine as well as classic French cuisine. Crème Fraiche has a fat content of around 39%-40% but cannot be whipped due to the mild fermentation from the bacteria. This is excellent in heated cooking applications as it is very stable and doesn’t break apart or curdle like other cream varieties.
- Country Style or Double Cream – This is a fresh cream that has 48% milk fats. For us, this is the most versatile cream as it can be used in cooking, it can be whipped, and it can even be poured over different desserts.
- Whipping Topping – This isn’t really cream but people often mistake this for whipping cream. This is a non-dairy product that whips easily to make whipped cream.
Why are there so many different types of cream? Well, it’s all about convenience. You can actually just use fresh country-style cream from local producers and tweak for most of the applications for different cream types with just a little bit of effort.
Cream Production & Farming in Texas
Cream production in Texas is very prolific, as the 5th largest producer of milk in the United States, Texas is home to many large dairy producers and cream production. But we’re not here to talk about Ultra Heat Treated creams, but locally produced fresh cream. There might be a few large producers that still produce fresh cream without UHT treatment or sourcing from organically produced milk, but they are few and far between.
Locally produced fresh cream, on the other hand, is pretty abundant. With most farmsteads in Texas having Jersey cows, fresh cream with high levels of milk fat (the best kind!) can be found in many famers’ markets around the state and in many specialty stores. Many farmsteads will also have fresh cream available throughout the year as well as fresh milk and other dairy by-products.
Preservatives, Additives, and Chemicals:
Since most commercially available cream products are UHT, there is no need for any added preservatives for most of them. But that doesn’t mean that there are none in commercially available cream. The chemicals can be present in the source milk even without them being added in the production stage. This is because commercially sourced and produced milk have been found to have traces of many antibiotics, chemicals, and pesticides due to how the livestock was handled in commercial dairy farms. For more information on the chemicals in milk, be sure to check out the Milk entry here in our Real Food Promptuary.
The simplest way to avoid these chemicals would be to look for the USDA organic mark on the package of cream that you’re buying or simply get your cream fresh from local producers that raise their livestock in a humane and organic way.
Commercially produced cream is usually packed in cartons (think milk cartons) and in cans. Artisan or locally produced cream will come in glass jars or bottles, with the option of returning the bottles as a deposit for reusing.
Cream can be used in almost anything. It can be topped on desserts, made into ice cream, added to soups, stews, and sauces to make them thicker and richer, it is even added to coffee to make it… well… creamier.
Cream should be consumed a week from purchase/opening the packaging as it is a dairy product. While some forms of cream can be frozen, it can cause some of the liquid to crystallize and make for consistency/texture variations.
Make Your Own Crème Fraiche:
Crème Fraiche has become very popular and it’s a bit pricy so we’re going to teach you a quick way (well, not quick, but simple) to make your own Crème Fraiche. All you need are 2 ingredients and a lot of time on your hands.
Heavy Cream, 2 cups
Cultured Buttermilk, 3 tablespoons
In a clean glass jar, combine the cultured buttermilk and heavy cream. Cover with a cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and store at room temperature for at least 24 hours.
Replace cheesecloth with a tight-fitting lid, give it a few shakes and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.
You now have homemade crème Fraiche without breaking the bank!