Crème Fraîche

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Crème fraîche is a versatile preparation. Thick, tart, and with an aroma that can be delicately nutty or buttery, it is a wonderful complement to fresh fruit, to caviar, and to certain pastries. And thanks to its high fat and correspondingly low protein content, it can be cooked in a sauce or even boiled down without curdling.

In France today, crème fraîche means cream with 30% fat that has been pasteurized at moderate temperatures, not UHT pasteurized or sterilized. (Fraîche means “cool” or “fresh.”) It may, however, be either liquid (liquide, fleurette) or thick (épaisse). The liquid version is unfermented and has an official refrigerated shelf life of 15 days. The thick version is fermented with the typical cream culture for 15 to 20 hours, and has a shelf life of 30 days. As with all fermented milks, the thickening is an indication that the product has reached a certain acidity (0.8%, pH 4.6) and so a distinct tartness. Commercial American crème fraîche is made essentially as the French fermented version is, though some manufacturers add a small amount of rennet for a thicker consistency. A distinctly buttery flavor is found in products made with Jersey and Guernsey milks (rich in citrate) and with diacetyl-producing strains of bacteria.