O.k., you knew that already. But did you realize it keeps rising?
What? That’s right, the cream on top of your Real Milk keeps rising. Cream is made of up tiny fat globules that weigh less than milk. These globules continually float to the top of the milk. Cream keeps rising to the top as long as the milk sits undisturbed.
And the longer it sits, the more the fat globules crowd together at the top of the container and the less space they take up. This makes it hard to measure cream in volume. The volume cream takes up is always getting smaller and smaller.
How much cream should I get?
Even though the volume of cream in milk is continually changing, there are some general rules you can use at home to check the volume of cream on your own Real Milk.
Summer Cream Line after 36 Hours
We store our milk in 1/2 gallon mason jars. After the milk has been filtered and refrigerated for 12 hours, you can expect to see a cream line around the 6 cup mark on the jar. This equates to approximately one quart of cream per gallon of milk. Remember, the longer the milk sits in your fridge, the lower the volume of cream you will have, even though the actual amount is the same. Those fat globules really like to be close.
Someone is skimming my cream!
Well, not necessarily. I did say that a quart per gallon is a rough estimate. The amount of cream varies based on three main factors:
- Breed. A Jersey cow gives more cream than a Holstein. Milking Shorthorns & Guernseys fall somewhere in between. And beef breeds are purported to have the richest, creamiest milk of all. No one knows for sure since there aren’t too many folks that milk beef cows and if they did, they would certainly keep all that rich milk themselves!
- Stage of lactation. Depending on how many months since calving, the cream content of milk varies. The farther into a lactation cycle, the more cream. This makes sense since calving naturally occurs in the Springtime when the weather is warmer. As the season progresses to Autumn and Winter, so does the cows lactation. Of course, many dairy farms no longer follow a natural calving cycle. Still, the cows’ lactation seems to follow this rule.
- Time of year. Yup. that’s right. You get more cream at certain times during the year. It is a seasonal thing. In warm weather, a cow produces less cream. In cold weather, more cream. Why? Think about it this way: fat is a high energy food. A calf needs to stay warm in the winter and would need more fat to produce that warmth. Hence, more cream on your milk.
In the wintertime, we’ve seen as much as a quart and a half after 12 hours!
We used to think feed had something to do with cream content. Some say alfalfa produces more cream. Others recommend sunflower seeds. But we have not found this to be the case. Cream content is tied to breed, lactation, and season, not feed. This study, done back in the 1930s, confirms this fact.
So where can I get heavy cream?
There are technical definitions for the term heavy cream but I’ll stick with what I know from actually working with cream.
The heaviest cream is found at the top. Remember that milk fat globules are continually rising, constantly trying to get to the top, squeezing together tightly and leaving no space for the milk. It follows that the densest concentration of fat globules will reside at the very top of your milk. So the very first scoop of cream off the top of your milk is what I call heavy cream.
Lifting the Heavy Cream Layer from a Jar of Milk
You can actually lift this heavy cream off in a layer. Note how this heavy cream forms a sort of glob that clings to the cream ladle.
When making butter, you get the highest yield (as much as 11 ounces per quart) from the heavy cream.
The deeper you go into the cream, the less dense the fat globules. This is where you find light cream. The very last part of the cream you skim is half-and-half. That’s because it gets harder to scoop out just cream and easier to get skimmed milk in your scoop.
Traditionally, milk was placed in wide pans to cool and rise before skimming. This gave ample room for the heaviest cream to form and maximized the heavy cream yield. Cream has always been highly valued. Therefore the term “cream rises to the top” in reference to the upward mobility of human excellence.
Why stay away from Heavy Cream at the grocery store?
You cannot purchase real heavy cream at the grocery or health food store these days. This is because the industrial cream separation process produces a consistent thickness. The cream is separated rapidly from the milk using a machine and not allowed to rise naturally. To produce a what sells for heavy cream, even the organic producers must add thickeners like Carrageenan to simulate naturally risen cream. And most heavy cream is Ultra Pasteurized, a process that destroys a great deal of the nutritional value of the cream.
Cream as Currency?
Cream was traditionally very valuable. In centuries past, people understood their was significant nutrition in cream and went to great lengths to obtain it. Foods made with cream were called rich. If a food was thick and smooth, regardless of ingredients, it was called creamy.
Perhaps we should consider putting the U.S. economy on the Cream Standard.