I get tired of fancy magazines (and, ehem…blogs) calling for this ingredient, don’t you? For quite a while I thought it was just a fancy French-sounding name for sour cream, one that allowed my local Whole Foods to charge twice as much money for the stuff. But in fact it is a slightly different animal from standard sour cream, that both tastes and performs differently when you cook with it.
But what if you don’t care to pay the extra two bucks a tub? Then you can dive headlong into the great Eurasian dairy fermenting tradition and make your own! First you’ll need a liquid dairy medium that contains at least 30% milk fat (light cream is the most convenient option for most of us). Next you’ll need cultures of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria to ferment it with. Those can be found in any dairy case, in a container of standard sour cream or a jug of cultured buttermilk. For every cup of cream you want to ferment, stir in about a tablespoon of either the buttermilk or the sour cream (or a mixture of both if you’re feeling saucy). Let the mix sit at room temperature for 12 hours until it thickens noticeably. Voilà…le crème fraîche.
But wait, Joe, if I can use buttermilk and sour cream cultures to make crème fraîche, aren’t I just making more regular buttermilk or sour cream? I mean…what’s the difference? The main difference is fat content. Crème fraîche has much more than either sour cream or buttermilk (I mean, it’s French, right?). There’s no fermented equivalent in American dairy cases.