Crème fraiche is a cultured milk product similar to sour cream but with a higher fat content, giving it a creamier flavor and mouth-feel. Crème fraiche has a butterfat content of approximately 28%, whereas sour cream contains between 18-20% butterfat.
Crème fraich utilizes a bacteria to produce lactic acid from lactose, which produces its characteristic sour flavor and increases the viscosity. The flavor of crème fraiche will vary depending on the particular bacteria used to culture the cream, as well as the length of time the cream was cultured, and the amount of butterfat in the cream.
Although crème fraiche has been used in European countries like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands for centuries, it has recently made its way across the Atlantic and is gaining popularity in the United States.
How is Crème Fraiche Made?
Historically, crème fraiche was produced by simply letting fresh cream sit out in mid-day heat, which allowed naturally occurring bacteria to proliferate, acidify, and thicken the cream. Most cream today is pasteurized to eliminate the natural bacteria for food safety reasons. After pasteurization, a specific strain or combination of strains of safe bacteria are reintroduced to the cream and allowed to culture.
Crème fraiche can be made at home with a few ingredients and a little time. Simply combining heavy cream with a bacterial starter, such as buttermilk or yogurt, and allowing the mixture to sit in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours will produce crème fraiche.
How is Crème Fraiche Used?
Crème fraiche is used similarly to sour cream but because of its high fat content, it pairs quite well with sweet as well as savory dishes. Crème fraiche is often spooned over fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, parfaits, pies, or cobblers. Crème fraiche can also be stirred into soups and sauces to provide a creamy, tangy finish.
Where to Buy Crème Fraiche
Due to its increasing popularity, crème fraiche can be found in many grocery stores in the United States. If it is unavailable at your local grocery, consider checking with specialty or import grocers. Because of crème fraiche’s European roots, it is especially likely to be carried by European grocers. Local farmers or creameries may make their own specialty crème fraiche, so be sure to check farmers markets.
How to Store Crème Fraiche
Crème fraiche should be kept refrigerated at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, although it should not be frozen. When making crème fraiche at home, it should be refrigerated promptly after the desired level of sourness and thickness have been achieved. Crème fraiche should be used within seven to ten days of opening a store bought container or seven to ten days from when it was cultured at home.