Tangy Crème Fraîche vs. Rich Clotted Cream

Crème Fraîche vs Clotted Cream

When it comes to scrumptious dairy products, few rival the historic importance and centuries old devotion that are given to clotted cream and crème fraîche!

Each of them are renowned in their country of origin and long since embraced as a part of society.

But aside from both being dairy products, how alike are they?

We’ll dive deep to uncover the answer to that question but there are two major differences to note.

The main differences between clotted cream and crème fraîche are the flavor and consistency of each. Clotted cream has a spreadable texture, similar to unsalted butter whereas crème fraîche is closer to the consistency of cottage cheese. In terms of taste, clotted cream can be described as nutty, with a milky finish while crème fraîche possesses a tanginess, similar to what you might find in yogurt.

Of course, since each of these delicious dairy products come from different countries and cultures, there are other factors that make them unique.

In this article, we’ll delve into all of them from their countries of origin, to how each is made and much more.

History and Origin Differences

While there’s some dispute about the precise origins of clotted cream, in modern times, it is overwhelmingly associated with England.

Prior to becoming a staple in Great Britain however, it’s thought that clotted cream can trace its origins back more than 2,000 years where early versions of it appeared in the Middle East.

Through trade and the passage of time, it became part of the English way of life, particularly in farming regions of the country.

The most important of these (from a clotted cream perspective) are in the southwestern counties of Cornwall and Devon. Not only are these regions renowned for producing the world’s finest clotted cream but a fierce rivalry exists between its residents as to which of them is responsible for its popularity.

Whatever the truth, the evidence is unmistakable that the demand for clotted cream has never slowed.

One need look no further for evidence of this than Rodda’s – the country’s largest producer of clotted cream – that has been producing it by the ton for the better part of a century.

Not only that, but the European Union issued Rodda’s a special protection when it designated the company’s product as official Cornish clotted cream.

This is significant because under this protection, called a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), only milk that originates in Cornwall and has a fat content of 55% may be used to create authentic clotted cream.

Across the English Channel, from the dairy producing regions of France like Alsace, Loire and Normandy comes the decadence of crème fraîche.

Part of what makes crème fraîche (translated to mean “fresh cream”) so wonderful, aside from the satisfying taste and creamy texture, are its simple beginnings.

By all accounts, the early versions of crème fraîche were made by allowing fresh milk to stand overnight. Cooler nighttime temperatures enabled the cream to separate and rise to the surface making collection easy and quick.

Today, the prominent types of crème fraîche are available in a fermented (thicker) form, known as crème fraîche épaisse and a liquid form, known as crème fraîche liquide.

When making comparisons to clotted cream, crème fraîche liquide is a better choice. 

Feature Clotted Cream Crème Fraîche
Origins England (with Middle Eastern roots) France
Production Regions Cornwall and Devon Alsace, Loire, Normandy
Fat Content 55% (required for official Cornish designation) N/A
Production Method Heat treatment of cream Allowing fresh milk to stand overnight
Types Available One (clotted) Fermented (épaisse) and liquid (liquide)
Comparison to Clotted Cream Thicker and richer Lighter and less rich

Taste and Texture Differences

Clotted cream truly has a multi-dimensional texture thanks to the crust layer on top and the silky smooth cream underneath.

If you’ve never tried clotted cream, the spreadable portion beneath the crust layer is like the texture of butter. However, the crust is a unique feature of clotted cream that is unlike anything else. As the cream is cooked, the fat rises, collecting and pooling at the surface.

Many describe this decadent layer as having a grainy, but not gritty, texture to it. With each bite, tiny globules of full fat are released, coating your tongue in creamy bliss.

But perhaps greater than the texture of clotted cream is its unmistakable nutty, cooked milk sweetness.

If you’re a sour cream or yogurt lover, the chances are excellent that you revel in your first bite of crème fraîche. In fact, the texture of crème fraîche could best be described as a mix of both and considering the fact, that it is a cousin of each, that really should come as no surprise.

Mouthfeel aside though, crème fraîche is far more delicate on the palate than either sour cream or yogurt. It’s less tangy and much lighter in its flavor profile which gives you the ability to use it in many more recipes where masking a strong aftertaste isn’t required.

Clotted Cream Crème Fraîche
Multi-dimensional texture (crust layer on top, silky smooth cream underneath) Mix of sour cream and yogurt texture
Unique crust layer (grainy but not gritty texture) Delicate mouthfeel (less tangy and lighter in flavor)
Nutty, cooked milk sweetness Less tangy, can be used in a variety of recipes

Production Differences

Clotted cream was historically produced using a very simple method that involved allowing fresh milk to cool for a period of time.

As it did, the cream would rise to the surface of the liquid. Once there, it was transferred to a water bath for heating which would cause the cream to “clot” together. After the cream had coagulated, it was skimmed from the top of the liquid.

Today, however, there are two predominant methods used in the production of clotted cream – float cream and scald cream.

In the float cream method, a series of shallow trays are filled with floating cream in milk prior to being heated with steam or superheated water. After the trays have been heated for around an hour, they are cooled for at least twelve hours before being packaged.

The scald cream method is similar except that milk is not used. Instead, a previously separated cream layer is heated in the trays but at lower temperatures than used in the float cream method. Once the process is completed, the finished cream is chilled and ready for packaging.

Unlike clotted cream, crème fraîche is not heat derived but rather it’s cultured in a manner similar to yogurt. This is achieved via the use of a bacterial starter culture which is added to heavy cream. This mixture is then allowed to stand in a temperature-controlled range which allows the bacteria to impart the thickness and the familiar tangy flavor of Creme Fraiche.

Clotted Cream Crème Fraîche
Historically produced by cooling fresh milk and skimming cream from surface Cultured using bacterial starter culture added to heavy cream
Two predominant methods of production: float cream and scald cream Not heat derived
Float cream method: cream in milk heated with steam or superheated water, cooled for at least 12 hours before packaging Cultured at temperature-controlled range to impart thickness and tangy flavor
Scald cream method: cream heated in trays at lower temperatures than float cream method, chilled and packaged

Usage Differences

One of the things that makes crème fraîche a favorite of chefs the world over is its versatility. It’s equally suited for usage in both sweet or savory recipes as an ingredient or served fresh as a topping.

Its higher fat percentage makes it well-suited for heat when used in soups or sauces or when baking in things like bread or cookies.

Without a doubt, the most popular (and common) use of clotted cream is cream tea. In a traditional cream tea, clotted cream is spread on scones before adding strawberry jam.

Cream tea is an English tradition, thought to have originated in the counties of Cornwall and Devon.

Clotted Cream Crème Fraîche
Commonly used as a spread for cream tea (scones with strawberry jam) Versatile, can be used in sweet or savory recipes and as an ingredient or topping
Use is limited to traditional cream tea Higher fat percentage makes it suitable for heat in soups, sauces and baking
English tradition, originates from counties of Cornwall and Devon
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