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Crème fraïche

"For me, crème fraïche is the number one top of the pops cook's ingredient in the cream family." Delia Smith

The first time I encountered Delia was when I was a cataloguer working for the State Film Centre Library of Victoria. (It no longer exists - the collection has been transferred to Canberra I believe.) Anyway I had to catalogue a video series of Delia's Summer Collection. Yes video - this was a long time ago. Because it was about cooking I took it home to watch and became a fan. However, I did notice that a huge number of recipes in this particular book/video featured crème fraïche - and lime juice. I am positive she still is a fan of crème fraïche but I don't know about the lime juice.

She later wrote about it in volume two of her How to Cook trilogy - from where that quote at the top of the page comes. At the end of her couple of paragraphs she says:

"The reason it is specially loved by cooks is it has a longer shelf life than double cream, so you take a spoonful here and there, replace the lid and use it again. ... the other supreme virtue of crème fraïche is that when you use it in cooking, it never curdles and separates - you can bubble and boil it and never be afraid."

And I have to say that I agree with her, so I was a bit surprised to read Simon Hopkinson saying, in his Roast chicken and other stories:

"I don't like cooking with it; it separate more easily than any cream I know."

Interesting because you can't imagine anyone so high flying as he, would be using inferior products. He must surely have been using the genuine Normandy Crème d'Isigny Sainte-Mère.

In fact I have never seen anyone else agreeing with him. Almost everyone goes the no splitting way. It's curious though isn't it that such a well-respected cook can say something so counter to the generally received opinion?

I have no idea why crème fraïche is so rare here. Maybe our favourite cooks don't push it. A quick search for recipes found that mascarpone is more common than crème fraïche as an ingredient. And sour cream or yoghurt. I guess the English lot are always popping over to France (well at least they would have been before Brexit), where the hypermarkets, supermarkets, and small corner stores, don't have ordinary cream but have metres and metres of shelves filled with crème fraïche. . Cream, in fact, in France is, more often than not, crème fraïche. In fact even if it is labelled as just crème it's probably actually crème fraïche. The exact opposite of here. Well, no it's worse than that. Pure - actual real cream - is also very hard to find on our supermarket shelves. Which means that it's also difficult to make your own. Which you can do. Indeed it is pretty simple. I have done it myself and ws quite impressed:

"you literally put a cup of heavy cream in a jar, add about 2 tablespoons of buttermilk and stir. Then you simply leave it alone, and after 12-24 hours you’ll be raving about your very own crème fraîche." The Primalist

You leave it alone, by the way, just covered with some muslin or paper towel, at room temperature. When it has thickened and the taste is right, then you put it in the fridge. It is a pretty good thing to do but - there is always a but - first find your pure cream - as I said - and when you do it might be as expensive as the almost real thing. The other but is that you need the buttermilk which only comes in largeish cartons, so you are left with a whole lot of buttermilk. There are things you can do with it of course. Just google it. Scones and chicken marinades spring to mind.

These days, if you hunt around the cream section in your local supermarket you will probably find a tub of Bulla Crème fraïche tucked away. However, not without fail I have to say. Sometimes there is none. Coles had a home brand version once upon a time, but it disappeared pretty quickly from the shelves. The Bulla version is pretty good, but it's not the same as the real French deal. And it's not cheap. And no it's not the same as sour cream - that's just cream that has been soured. Crème fraïche is cultured - i.e. fermented - hence the need to keep your home-made version out of the fridge for the first twelve hours or so. But it is worth it - it's tangy but not as sharp as sour cream or yoghurt. It has a richness about it.

The crème de la crème of crème fraíche has an Appellation Contrôlée designation. Originally it was made from unpasteurised milk, but I believe the good people of Isigny Sainte-Mère and the surrounding countryside have found a way to pasteurise it and still get the right taste. A culture of specific bacteria is added after pasteurisation and before fermentation.

I do have a nasty feeling that I have written all of this before. But anyway, I'll leave you with two delectable chicken recipes that feature it and a fishy one. One from Delia - Chicken with sherry vinegar and tarragon sauce and the others from Nigel Slater - Chicken with mustard and crème fraiche and Smoked mackerel pie. I'm going to try that one very soon - next time we have fish perhaps. Although that's another thing that is now difficult to find - smoked mackerel. It's been replaced by smoked trout, and the mackerel has disappeared. You could probably use the trout, but it has a much milder taste.

So give crème fraiche a go. Even if you just put a dollop on your next luscious dessert. If we all start buying it and asking why there isn't any, then perhaps more companies will start producing it.

"It is crème fraiche that produces much of that important, je ne sais quoi; that inexplicable, different, creamy taste, to French sauces, soups, and other recipes." Behind the French menu


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