Saturday, August 11, 2012

Crème Fraîche - Creme Fraiche. What is Crème Fraîche? Why is Crème Fraîche Part of so Many of France’s Famous Sauces.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Crème Fraîche d'Isigny sur Mer, AOC/AOP, 40% fat.
France’s top rated crème fraiche.

There is no English translation for crème fraîche ; it is a uniquely French creation and so crème fraiche it remains in English.  

Crème fraîche has a rich texture, and while it is not at all like sour cream or yoghurt then neither is it a sweet cream. French chefs use crème fraîche in many more sauce recipes than they will sweet cream. It is crème fraîche that produces much of that important, je ne sais quoi; that inexplicable, different, cream  taste, in French sauces, soups and other recipes. Crème fraîche is truly different; if a chef makes a sauce or soup with fresh cream or sour cream then a decidedly different taste is achieved; taste the same dish with crème fraîche and your mouth will pop as you appreciate the difference.

Caviar, smoked salmon and crème fraiche.
Photograph courtesy of avlxyz.
Crème fraîche is pasteurized and naturally thickened cow’s milk with most offerings having 30%, or more, fat. The unique taste of crème fraîche comes from the milk bacteria that are added.  This bacterium, originally a natural occurrence, is now a supervised and inspected addition. Today crème fraîche is available in the larger supermarkets around the world, from the USA to Australia; only a few countries that are exposed to French cuisine do not have at least one local producer of crème fraîche. 
All over France crème fraîche is produced by dairies large and small; however,  one small town and its surrounding villages is recognized as the producer of the very best crème fraîche. This is the Crème Fraîche d’Isigny AOP.  The small town of Isigny sur Mer and the villages around it are in Normandy, in the département of Calvados, and together the population is close to 12,000. Isigny sur Mer also produce an AOC/AOP butter, the Beurre d'Isigny AOP along with other excellent butters and milk products.  You may be sure that a large percentage of the population, from all the generations, are involved 24/7 in making their unique milk products. When you are visiting Calvados in search of their famous apple brandy consider stopping for lunch in one of the many local restaurants where the crème fraiche and the Calvados will be part of many dishes on the menu.
For more about France’s AOC/AOP butters and the quality labels AOC and AOP see the links at the end of this post
Homemade crème fraiche?
Recipes for homemade crème fraîche mostly include mixing sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk. (Buttermilk is the liquid left over from making butter and not to be confused with whey which is the liquid left over from making cheese). None of these recipes have a result truly close to real crème fraiche but they remain the only option in countries where real crème fraiche is a still not available.
  Chilled asparagus soup with that essential ingredient crème fraîche.
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivak
Crème Fraiche or Crème Fraîche Epaisse
When the label reads Crème Fraîche Épaisse then that is the full name  for  crème fraiche that has 30% or more fat; there is no legal upper limit on the percentage of fat. Look for the percentage mark next to the word grasse on the label; grasse translates as fat in English. The word épaisse may translate as thick in your French-English dictionary; however Crème Fraîche Épaisse is the standard crème fraîche.
Yoplait Creme Fraiche Épaisse,
This standard crème fraiche with over 30% fat

Crème Fraîche Légère - Low fat crème fraiche.
Low fat crème fraîche means less than 30% fat, and depending on the producer it can be as low as 18%.  Once again the percentage next to the word grasse on the label is the fat content.

The drop of crème fraîche  in this lentil soup will produce that je ne sais quoi.
photograph courtesy of stu-spivack.
Connected posts:
French Butter. The Many Wonderful, and Different, Butters of France. All the French you need to know to buy French Butter.
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2013. 2014.
  For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman