Cream Line

Here is a gallon of Monday’s milk. Non-homogenized cow’s milk automatically separates; the cream rises to the top. My finger is pointing to the line where the cream has divided from the milk. This line is officially called… wait for it… the cream line.

The longer you let the milk sit, the more cream will rise. After four or five days Katika’s cream is almost as thick as yogurt. DH loves this heavy cream in his tea.

Because cream (the fat essential for butter, most cheeses, and ice cream) was the money-maker, a cow producing a deep cream line was traditionally more valuable.

In the past century, however, this has reversed, and Holstein cows, whose copious milk is naturally low-fat with much less cream, have taken over the dairy industry. Most people today think of cows and immediately picture these black and white Holsteins. However for a small farm a Holstein is the cattle equivalent of an S.U.V. — too big, expensive to fuel, and inefficient.

Notice the blue-green tint to the lower milk in the jar? That is because it has lost most of its butterfat. When the cream is skimmed off, the thin stuff below is called … you guessed it … skimmed (or skim) milk. Historically, when everyone drank fresh milk, skimmed milk was considered so inferior it was often reserved for the pigs.

My cream rises as my milk sits in a refrigerator. In the old days, before electricity, milk was set out in a cool pantry, milk room, or buttery. Because it could not sit for days without spoiling, the milk was poured into large, shallow pans, to give a bigger surface for the cream to rise. Then it was skimmed.

I use a ladle for skimming. I was charmed to read in a memoir by the novelist Kenneth Roberts that in the 1890s his Maine grandmother skimmed her milk pans with a clean white clam shell.

This summer I have been so busy with projects I’ve fed most of my six daily gallons of milk, cream and all, to the pigs. Every few days I milk for the house, but I’ve made no butter or cheese. That will change with the first hard frost, which I estimate will be here within three weeks, and a return to regular routine.

The pigs will miss their creamy bounty.

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6 Responses to Cream Line

  1. Cattle Prod says:

    Love the image of skimming the cream with a white clam shell. Thanks for sharing that tidbit!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Isn’t that great? Roberts’ descriptions of his grandmother’s Maine pantry during his childhood also included the clean hen’s wing for sweeping up flour after baking… I think of that often these days as I butcher my chickens. Perhaps I should make myself a baking whisk broom? 🙂

  2. Very informative. Within a couple of days, I’ll be writing about possibly getting a milk cow one day with a link to this post. Thanks for sharing such wonderful information!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Good luck with getting a milk cow, Lana. It’s not for everyone (the daily work) but for me it has been wonderful.

  3. Mindy says:

    Great information! I love learning about how humans eating/drinking have changed in the past century.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Hi, Mindy. Thanks for commenting. Yes, I enjoy learning about the past, too. My favorite job ever was teaching American History.

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