Crème fraîche is a cultured milk product similar to sour cream but with a higher fat content, giving it a creamier flavor and mouth-feel. Crème fraîche has a butterfat content of approximately 28%, whereas sour cream contains between 18 to 20% butterfat.
Crème fraîche utilizes a bacteria to produce lactic acid from lactose, which produces its characteristic sour flavor and increases the viscosity. The flavor of crème fraîche 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 fraîche 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 Crème Fraîche Is Made
Historically, crème fraîche was produced by simply letting fresh cream sit out in the 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 fraîche 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 fraîche.
How Crème Fraîche Is Used
Crème fraîche 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 fraîche is often spooned over fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, parfaits, pies, or cobblers. Crème fraîche can also be stirred into soups and sauces to provide a creamy, tangy finish.
Where to Buy Crème Fraîche
Due to its increasing popularity, crème fraîche 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. Due to crème fraîche’s European roots, it is especially likely to be carried by European grocers. Local farmers or creameries may make their own specialty crème fraîche, so be sure to check farmers markets.
How to Store Crème Fraîche
Crème fraîche should be kept refrigerated at temperatures below 40 F, although it should not be frozen. When making crème fraîche at home, it should be refrigerated promptly after the desired level of sourness and thickness have been achieved. Crème fraîche 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.