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What’s the difference between “spoiled” cream and “cultured” cream?

…asks reader Adam, who’s looking to make his own cultured butter. Great question, Adam. The difference is that one sounds more appetizing than the other. Practically speaking, they mean pretty much the same thing. But I’d hasten to add that if you’re planning to make your own cultured butter it’s always better to “spoil” your own milk or cream with a culture you know is safe rather than take a chance on a spoiled dairy product that’s inhabited by God-only-knows what. There are quite a few types of microbes capable of growing in milk or cream, and not all of them are harmless. 

I’d suggest inoculating your cream it with a heavy dose of store-bought buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt. A tablespoon or so per cup is usually enough to crowd out anything else that might consider making a go of it in the fermentation bowl. I should also add that once you’ve achieved your fermenting goal, you refrigerate the finished product again to discourage any adventurism by bugs from the wrong side of the tracks.

And of course, should anything you ever ferment give off a funky odor or exhibit a strange color (blue, green, pink), take no chances. Throw it out.

6 thoughts on “What’s the difference between “spoiled” cream and “cultured” cream?”

  1. Reminds of a time when I was young in the 50s and my family returned every summer to my father’s home in Maine. Once there we always had to search down what my father called “dairy butter” so we could return to NYS with a cooler full of as much as my father could lay hands on.

    This was butter that was made by farm women for whatever pin money they could get. It was heavily salted — you could see the flecks of salt glistening on the surface! — and a dark yellow color approaching orange. It was stored with a minimum of refrigeration and tasted right on the borderline between butter and cheese. In other words it was as “cultured” as a board of health would allow them to get away with.

    My father doled it out over the next year as though he were sharing caviar.

    Today at my house we keep our table butter in a butter bell in toasty SoCal. When it starts, sometimes, to go rancid my husband hands it over to me and tells me to alert my father that the dairy butter’s ready. Of course, my husband never tasted “dairy butter” but he’s heard the story so often when I respond that it’s just starting to get good that he knows the drill by now.

    1. Ha! Great story, Rainey. It’s funny how things that were once normal have become exotic. It was that partially spoiled farm cream (that waited in milk cans by the side if the road for the dairy man to come) that went into everyday “butter” once. Then, unspoiled “sweet cream” butter was thought to be exotic, something for the rich. Now we pay extra for the “cultured” stuff!

      And round and round we go!



  2. As someone who brews and keeps a sourdough starter, I can say with complete confidence that if it tastes bad or makes you sick, it’s spoiled; if it tastes good and doesn’t make you sick, it’s fermented 😛

    I’m pretty sure that’s the only difference.

    1. Jane, that’s what I would call gospel. Thanks for summing it up so well!

      – Joe

    2. I love this and it’s exactly how I operate; people ask me if their yogurt or whatever is spoiled and I reply “if it’s not changing colors or smelling bad, it’s fine.”

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