If you’ve ever wondered “What can I do with raw milk?” well then this series, wherein we explore all the delicious possibilities raw milk provides, will be right up your alley.
We’re starting with cream because, well, cream is my favorite.
“I have too much cream” – said no one ever.
And yet, when you get almost a quart of cream to every gallon, and your cow is giving 3-4 gallons a day, that cream adds up fast.
If this is you and you’ve got more cream than you know what to do with, this two-part series all about cream is for you.
What is cream?
Cream is the fat of the milk.
I am constantly amazed at the magic a milk cow conjures as she transform grass – nearly inedible for most species and certainly incapable of sustaining life and reproduction – into one of the most delicious, nutritionally balanced, super foods with oodles of beneficial bacteria, probiotics, enzymes, and glorious, delicious fat.
Rising To The Top
You’ve heard of the idiom “cream rises to the top,” yes? The essential idea is that the best ideas, the most skilled people, are the most noticeable because they “rise to the top” and stand out. There’s a good practical wisdom in that idiom because cream really is the best part of the milk, if you ask me.
When you let raw milk sit for 12-24 hours, the cream (or fat) will rise to the top. For some breeds of milk cow (like Dexter), the fat globules are very small and so it takes longer for the cream to separate and rise (closer to 2-3 days).
Fun (slightly unrelated) fact: the fat globules in goat’s milk are even smaller and so the cream never separates at all. Therefore, goat’s milk is naturally homogenized, meaning the cream/fat is evenly distributed throughout the milk.
The cream at the very top of the jar will be what is often known as “heavy cream.” It is thick and dense. You can almost stand a spoon upright in it.
My kids like to call this creme de la creme and that’s exactly where that particular idiom comes from: heavy cream is literally the cream of the cream, the best of the best.
Important: If you want to make whipped cream, you must use heavy cream.
Heavy cream will also produce the highest yields when churned to butter.
The light cream settles below the thick heavy cream at the top, but still above the liquid milk. You’ll notice that it’s not as thick and doesn’t stick to your ladle or spoon as thickly/stubbornly as the heavy cream at the top.
Remember – light cream cannot be whipped. It has too much liquid and won’t properly set up into soft peaks.
But it’s great for ice cream! And it will still make great butter, even if the yield is a little less than when you churn heavy cream.
Skimming Cream At Home
Skimming (or separating) cream refers to the process of removing the cream from the milk. For me (and most homesteaders), this is done manually with a ladle or spoon.
I like to use extra-wide-mouth gallon jars for all my milk because it makes skimming cream easier and more efficient and I am alll about maximizing my cream yield.
I use a stainless steel 1/2 cup kitchen ladle to manually skim each gallon, and scoop one ladle at a time, transferring it to another jar (fitted with a stainless steel wide mouth funnel to minimize the mess).
A Great Tip for Skimming Cream
Run the ladle under warm water just before skimming – the thin layer of water lets the cream slide off the ladle better and prevents a really thick buildup of cream.
Separating Cream Commercially
Commercial dairy processing systems use a mechanical cream separator (really cool, but generally cost-prohibitive for the average homesteader), and use centrifugal force to extract all the cream from the milk.
Because each cow gives a little different percentage of cream, each vat of milk will vary slightly in its cream fat percentage. A cream separator equalizes every vat of milk by removing all the cream no matter how much it had to begin with.
The cream is later added back to the milk in the volume required to meet the mandated percentages for each product (3.25% (whole), 2%, 1%)
The Bottom Line
When you have more milk than you can use, always keep the cream.
Skim the cream and make butter.
Freeze the butter to use during her dry period.
Make self-stable ghee for your pantry.
Make lifelong friends of your neighbors by giving that yellow gold away.
Make gallons of ice cream and host a party.
Make cream cheese and cheese cake.
But always keep the cream.
Skimmed milk can go to the pigs. 1 gallon of skimmed milk or whey is all the protein a pig needs in a day and you can substitute milk pound for pound for their grain ration with no loss in nutrition.
I know. You’re gonna want to know how to make all these things. And more. I gotcha.
In part 2, we’ll talk about all the delicious ways you can use that abundance of cream.
The possibilities are downright delicious.