What is with the French and their relationship to cream?
If you haven’t spent heaps of time in France but have an inkling about their cuisine, your answer is likely “Ah yes, they love it, the French put cream it in everything.”
Or do they?
Because buying cream in France is nigh on impossible. If you want decent cream that is.
I recently gave up milk in favour of cream. Might sound odd, but it’s a protein and sugar thing to do with my running training and nutrition.
So one day I went to buy cream.
Quick aside: When we moved to our studio apartment in the high Alps we started to buy long life milk. Reason being that when it was ‘inter-season’ (between ski season and summer season) we had no nearby shop, so we had to buy food we could store. Even in-season when we could get fresh milk nearby, I discovered it was really handy to have some long life down in the ‘cave’ (cellar – in an apartment block it’s a locked storage cupboard on the lower level). We do the same now. We have some shops a kilometre away, but having a supply of organic long life milk in the ‘sous-sol’ (basement) is essential.
So when I started to look at cream, I just did what I was in the habit of doing and bought tetra packs of long life ‘creme entiere’ (whole cream). I didn’t think to question it.
My cream troubles begin
One day last winter we were invited to dinner at a friends and I said I’d take dessert. I thought I’d make an easy but delicious chocolate mousse. Whipped eggs, whipped cream, chocolate.
But the cream I bought didn’t whip. At the time I didn’t own anything more sophisticated for whipping than a balloon whisk. Hard work, it turned out. But I kept going … and going… nope, that cream was simply not going to whip up. So chocolate mousse became chocolate pots. Ho hum. (Oh, and I bought a hand-powered rotary whisk on ebay. Love it!)
That week I turned to the local Facebook groups for help. Why wouldn’t my French cream whip, and could I find what we call in the UK ‘double cream’?
Advice came in – ensure the cream is minimum 30% fat, and add something called Chantifix to make it whip.
I’m sorry? In FRANCE I need to use an ADDITIVE to make WHIPPED CREAM aka CHANTILLY – wasn’t that INVENTED by the French?
This seemed all wrong.
Plus I couldn’t find this mystery nasty ‘Chantifix’ product in the shops. What was in this thing anyway, that would make my pure cream unpurely whipped? It’s traditional to think of the British as bad cooks with terrible cuisine. But hey – WE HAVE GENUINE CREAM, in various guises, none requiring additives. So there.
I decided I’d just not whip cream for now.
Then Christmas came around – and Christmas ain’t Christmas without whipped cream. Yes, we can buy cans of ‘squirty’ cream. The kids love it and it is kinda yummy. But it also leaves you very quickly with a massive lump of recycling. And we are really trying to live by the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle motto – in that order. So I was dead set on making my own Chantilly – it was make your own or do without.
I started paying more attention to the various creams available. For thick, spoonable cream on mince pies I decided that Creme Fraiche d’Asigny was ideal. It has the thickness of clotted cream, but the slightly tart edge of creme fraîche. Easy to serve – no whipping necessary. And it’s yummy. Plus it comes in a nice glass pot with a well-fitting plastic lid, which are really handy as containers in the kitchen afterwards.
But I still needed a cream for whipping. Creams declaring that they were ‘perfect for chantilly’ started appearing on the long-life cream shelves. I looked at the ingredients. Hmmm…. additives. That was probably whatever was in ‘Chantifix’. But okay, if that’s what you have to buy in France, then that’s what I would try.
I used some of the ‘cream’ in my coffee. It didn’t taste very nice.
I whipped some with a little sugar and vanilla (which is standard here in France, for making ‘chantilly’). It was delicious, but just knowing that the sugar and vanilla was hiding the taste of additives put me off it.
What about the cream I’d been using in my coffee up until now? Well, silly me, of course that was full of E-numbers too. YUCK. All the benefits of the good proteins and lower sugar completely wiped out by the chemical additives. Pants to that. And what did I THINK was in long-life cream? Man, I need to question more. And I’m someone who can spend ten minutes reading labels in the biscuits section just to find the one type of cookie that has no glucose-fructose-syrup and no palm oil (very difficult).
Scouring the ‘fridge
So then I was back to scouring the fridge section for cream, which I’d done a few times to no avail. Deep down I knew I was probably just looking in the wrong section – I don’t find the organisation of French supermarkets very intuitive, so I was still a harbouring excitement at the prospect of thick, delicious French cream. Because French butter can be epic, so I just knew that the cream, when I finally found it, would be fabulous.
Well, it seems like you can buy every kind of creme fraîche under the sun in France, but normal, honest-to-goodness cream? Not easy.
By now it was after Christmas. We got through the festive season with the dastardly long-life stuff, and with the adding of sugar and vanilla none of my guests were any the wiser. I’d even finally found some lovely ‘fixateur’ powder to help the cream stiffen up. I’d even used some. It all felt very wrong. And with the Mr’s birthday coming up and a request for a Banoffee Pie, I needed decent, honest-to-goodness cream.
I finally found some ‘creme fleurette’ in the fridge section, which had no ingredients other than cream. Looked like it could be the go for my coffee. There was also something called ‘Creme Normande’ which was marked as being thick, and didn’t say ‘creme fraîche’ anywhere on the label. So that could be the thing for the Banoffee Pie.
The creme fleurette was great. Real cream. No nasties. Yummy coffee.
But the other stuff was… argh… more creme fraîche! What the heck was going on? Why didn’t it say so on the packet? And then I realised that my coffee ‘fleurette’ was 30% fat and I probably should have used that, but it had been a few days since my shop and I’d used up quite a bit of it and there wasn’t enough, and it was the Mr’s birthday evening and I was due to deliver my Banoffee Pie to the table in the next 5 minutes. So I threw the thick crème Normande into a bowl, added sugar and vanilla and whipped it up with my electric mixer (cos that came out of storage when we moved here… my ‘Amish’ hand rotary one still lives in the Alps.)
It was nice, but not quite right. Me and the Mr enjoyed the Banoffee Pie, but the kids not so much – it was the cream… just not quite right…
Short of buying a cow
I’d love to own a cow… they’re just so pretty. And when I was a child we looked after a farm for a couple of summers (‘nother story) and I’ve milked one by hand before so…
In New Zealand I begged the Mr to get a cow. We ended up with ducks, which were gorgeous and laid us lovely eggs.
But that’s not the point… the point is; short of buying a cow here, I’m not sure what to do about finding decent milk.
Next stop will be the farms we pass I think. I know you can get raw milk, so there may be hope.
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