Sunday, March 13, 2011

Clotted Cream – why? how?

My cream tea

I was having afternoon tea in The Grand Hotel in Brighton the other day, sitting in the window watching the sea – through the grey haze of drizzle that had descended on the seaside resort, but that’s another story. My tea consisted of two scones, strawberry jam, and clotted cream. The last-named delicacy is a favourite in Britain. In Australia, our ‘cream teas’ are served with whipped cream, or possibly King Island Dairy cream, which resembles clotted cream, but not quite.

I had come across clotted cream before in England. It is a staple, it seems, in Cornwall, for example. I decided to investigate, to appease my curiosity, and of course yours, should you share it. Here’s what I found out (mostly from Wikipedia and Rodda's website)

That crusty top does look a little icky
Clotted cream (sometimes called Devonshire cream or Clouted cream) is a thick cream made by indirectly heating unpasteurised cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms 'clots' or 'clouts', hence its alternative name 'Clouted cream'. I’m wondering if the unpasteurised basis is a reason that clotted cream is not manufactured in Australia – I couldn’t find a reference to this; but as we know, Australians have long been denied the delights of many unpasteurised cheeses.

Clotted cream is produced by many dairy farms in South West England, and is an essential part of a cream tea. It has become the subject of myths in both Devon and Cornwall. For example, one myth tells of Jenny who enticed the giant Blunderbore (sometimes called Moran) by feeding him clotted cream. He eventually fell in love with her and made her his fourth wife (lucky Jenny?). Another myth, from Dartmoor, tells of a princess who wanted to marry an Elven prince, but according to tradition had to bathe in pure cream first. Unfortunately, a witch who wanted the prince for her daughter kept souring the cream. Eventually, the prince offered the princess clotted cream, which the witch was unable to sour.  It was mentioned in ‘The Shepeardes Calendar’, a poem by Edmund Spenser in 1579:
"Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
For she would call him often heam,
And give him curds and clouted cream.”

This will be of interest to any IP lawyers out there: although it has uncertain origins, "Cornish clotted cream" became a protected designation of origin by the European Union directive in 1998, as long as the milk is produced in Cornwall and the minimum fat content is 55%. Devon does also lay claim to Clotted Cream - hence, of course, the "Devonshire Tea".
A North Downs farm, Cornwall. Or maybe Devon. They squabble a bit.

Its largest producer is Rodda's, which produces a peak of 25 tonnes (25,000 kg) of clotted cream each day. That, my friends, is a LOT of cream. Rodda’s describes their company like this:

Cream makers since 1890, the Rodda family have dedicated themselves to making the finest Cornish Clotted Cream. World renowned for the production of Cornwall’s most famous export, Cornwall has the perfect recipe: pure ocean breezes... subtropical climate... lush pastures and quality milk from local farms. Add to this the unique passion and know-how of five generations of one family and the uniqueness of Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream speaks for itself.
Rodda's packaged product.
Now, I have been to Cornwall, in the summer I might add, and I really do think that ‘subtropical climate’ is taking things a little too far. But I will acknowledge the ‘pure ocean breezes’ (aka wind); and the ‘lush pastures.’ And, indeed, the quality of the clotted cream, which I enjoyed. But in the course of my research on this interesting topic, I did discover a mis-use of the venerable Australian description ‘pavlova’ by Messrs Rodda’s: in this recipe which is for a mere meringue, NOT a pavlova. Perhaps someone in Australia needs to apply to the EU for a ‘protected designation of origin’ status for ‘pavlova’. If nothing else, it would really annoy a lot of New Zealanders.

Where did it originate? According to Rodda’s website, Clotted Cream has been a part of Cornish history for over 2500 years. It is thought that the art of making it was exchanged with the Phoenicians seeking tin as long ago as 500 BC.  Actually, it is similar to Kajmak (or Kajmak), a Near Eastern delicacy that is still made all over the Middle East, Southeast Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Turkey. ‘Malai’ is an Indian term to describe a very similar product. Buffalo milk is thought to produce better malai because of its high fat content. Malai is used in such Indian recipes as Malai Kofta dumplings and the sweet Malai Kulfi.

For generations, Cornish farmhouses often had a large bowl of cream gently cooking on the range, so that friends, visitors and travellers could be offered the golden crusted cream, served with new baked scones or fresh strawberries. It is the delicacy that William Gladstone referred to as "The food of the Gods".

That’s rather a nice vision: the cream cooking on the range, ready to be dolloped on fresh scones when visitors arrive. A good place to end...
The Producers
..rather than with this disturbing information... Because of its high saturated fat content (55%), especially relative to other creams such as single cream, which has a fat content of 18%, clotted cream is often considered to be bad for health today. According to the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency, a full 100 grams (3.5 oz) tub provides 586 kilocalories (2,450 kj) (roughly equivalent to a 200 grams (7.1 oz) cheeseburger).
Portloe, Cornwall

Memories of my trip to Cornwall
last (northern) summer
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