Two methods to make consistent and tasty creme fraiche at home.
To date, creme fraiche is the easiest cheese / fermented dairy product that I have made. This is a really good news as we all know how expensive this French 'delicacy' is. Besides, fresh creme fraiche, made without any additives is much tastier. Given this, I hardly ever buy it or use creme fraiche substitutes anymore.
Creme fraiche is made by heating non-ultra pasteurized heavy cream to the optimal temperature of 86F, adding a starter culture to it and letting it ripen at room temperature for about 12-24 hours or even longer. It's that simple.
The most critical part of creme fraiche making process is ensuring that you use a strong, viable starter culture. If the starter culture is weak, you will get a poorly set, runny product. You may not even notice any changes to the cream at all.
There are two ways to get a strong starter culture. One is to use cultured buttermilk. The other one is to use a commercially produced mesophilic starter culture.
Method 1 - using buttermilk as a starter culture
Many new and experienced home cheesemakers initially use store-bought cultured buttermilk until they progress to commercial cultures. Some choose to stick with it as they believe the often wider range of micro-organisms in cultured buttermilk gives them better taste and flavor.
To use this method you must start with cultured buttermilk, which contains live cultures necessary for fermentation. The common challenge with using buttermilk as a starter culture is that it's often not strong enough to be used as a culture. This leads to poor results and a lot of frustration. To overcome this challenge cultured buttermilk needs to be concentrated. I experienced this problem myself and it took me a while to figure out the source of the problem. When using concentrated cultured buttermilk heating cream is not necessary.
- Set a 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk in a 1-quart glass jar on the kitchen counter with the lid cracked open at 70F (21C) room temperature to ripen and increase the bacteria population density. After 6-8 hours the buttermilk will get much thicker, like fresh yogurt, and sourer. This process will take fewer hours if the ambient temperature is above 70F and longer at colder temperatures.
- Add 2 cups of non-ultra pasteurized cream to the jar and stir well. Cover tightly with a piece of cheesecloth and let sit at room temperature 70F (21C) for 24 hours. Stir, put the lid on and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.
Method 2 - using a commercial mesophilic starter culture
This is my preferred method for making creme fraiche as it's very straightforward, provides rich flavor, and does not require building a mother culture aka concentrated cultured buttermilk. Using a properly stored starter culture also ensures very consistent results. My favorite starter culture is Biena Mesophilic Aroma Type B. I use it for making creme cheese, sour cream, goat cheese, buttermilk, and cottage cheese as well. The most economical places to get it from are the cheesemaking.com and glengarrycheesemaking.on.ca.
Traditionally, rennet is not added when making creme fraiche but if you like it a bit firmer, add 1-2 drops of single strength rennet per quart of cream diluted in 1 Tbsp of non-chlorinated water. This is important when using Aroma B or Flora Danica cultures as they produce creme fraiche that's not very firm.
- Pour 2 cups of non-ultra pasteurized heavy cream into a clean glass jar. Place the jar in a pot and fill it with water up to the top level of the cream. Slowly heat the water in the pot to 86F stirring every few minutes. If you have a sous vide immersion circulator use it to heat and ripen the cream. I like the precision of the temperature control it provides.
- Sprinkle 1/4 tsp Aroma B starter culture over the cream and let hydrate for 5 minutes.
- Add the 1-2 drops of single strength rennet per quart of cream diluted in 1 Tbsp of non-chlorinated water if looking for a firmer texture and mix well.
- Cover with a piece of cheesecloth and let ripen for 12 hours in the water bath at 70F-72F ambient temperature. You can also place the pot with the jar inside a large cooler box to keep the water warm. If using a sous vide circulator, set the temperature to 72F.
- Remove from the water bath, stir, cover with a lid and let sit at room temperature for another 6-8 hours for a tangier taste.
- Transfer to the refrigerator and store for up to 2 weeks. Stir before serving.