Cream is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, cream is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. Cream can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets.
Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from whey cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and "cheesy".
Cream produced by cows (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives the cream a slight yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white color, cream. Cream from goat's milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.
Different grades of cream are distinguished by their fat content, whether they have been heat-treated, whipped, etc. In many jurisdictions there are regulations for each type.
In the United States, cream is usually sold as:
- Half and half (10.5–18% fat)
- Light, coffee, or table cream (18–30% fat)
- Medium cream (25% fat)
- Whipping or light Whipping cream (30–36% fat)
- Heavy Whipping cream (36% or more)
- Extra-heavy, double, or manufacturer's cream (38–40% or more), generally not available at retail except at some warehouse and specialty stores.
Not all grades are defined by all jurisdictions, and the exact fat content ranges vary. The above figures are based on the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 131 and a small sample of state regulations.
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