Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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When milk fresh from the udder is allowed to stand and cool for some hours, many of its fat globules rise and form a fat-rich layer at the top of the container. This phenomenon is called creaming, and for millennia it was the natural first step toward obtaining fat-enriched cream and butter from milk. In the 19th century, centrifuges were developed to concentrate the fat globules more rapidly and thoroughly, and homogenization was invented to prevent whole milk from separating in this way. The globules rise because their fat is lighter than water, but they rise much faster than their buoyancy alone can account for. It turns out that a number of minor milk proteins attach themselves loosely to the fat globules and knit together clusters of about a million globules that have a stronger lift than single globules do. Heat denatures these proteins and prevents the globule clustering, so that the fat globules in unhomogenized but pasteurized milk rise more slowly into a shallower, less distinct layer. Because of their small globules and low clustering activity, the milks of goats, sheep, and water buffalo are very slow to separate.