Britain's Clotted Cream Is a Joyful Anachronism
There is nothing #clean about clotted cream—thank goodness
If I were ever to emigrate away from Britain—and believe me after Brexit I am considering it—I imagine that clotted cream would be one of the British foods I would miss most. It would definitely be up there, along with baked beans, Greggs sausage rolls, and, er, Indian food. It’s the crust that gets me, that crimped, yellowish seal that gives way to an aerated mass of nutty cream. It’s enough to make anyone lie back and think of England.
Originally known as “clouted cream,” clotted cream has been around in Britain since the Middle Ages and is now firmly ensconced in our culinary repertoire. Sure, we partake in pouring cream and are partial to whipped cream —if we’re feeling particularly frivolous—but clotted cream is different. Clotted cream is, evocatively, ours. (Except it’s not, not really. Many cultures have their own version and research indicates that it may have been introduced into Britain through trade with Phoenicians.)
Which is a good job. Because, it is hard to imagine clotted cream being embraced if it were to be dreamed up by farmers today. OK, let’s see, a dairy product with stratospheric levels of saturated fat and a short lifespan, can I run that past marketing?
It certainly wouldn’t play well on Instagram. Because, there is nothing #clean about clotted cream, my friends, nothing at all. It will never be extolled by po-faced health food bloggers for its wholesome, nutritious qualities, nor is it likely to ever share a bowl with muesli, blueberries and—if you’re feeling damn right naughty—a tincture of agave syrup. #delicious #healthy #fit #lookatmearentIjustsoannoyinglyvirtuous.
To those on diet plans, it is indeed a scourge. But for those joyful moments when you allow yourself to stop obsessing over food and just enjoy it, clotted cream is pretty much unbeatable: rich, full of fat and ruinously more-ish.
For me, its nostalgic pull is strong, a reminder of better, sunnier days spent in higgledy-piggledy British seaside towns devouring cream tea. Clotted cream is of course what makes this indulgent combination sing; a sour/sweet grace note to round off the tartness of the jam and savoriness of the scone. I can still remember the happiness I felt as a child being allowed to dollop on my own from a little ramekin; I would pile on so much the cream tea would practically crumple under the weight.
Unfortunately, my metabolism is a little tardier these days, so I tend to save the delights of clotted cream for special occasions, the drop of a new Netflix series, perhaps, or a sunny day, when I will smother it on a breakfast scone or whisk it into porridge. If I’m feeling particularly indulgent I may even use it coat mushrooms for a fry-up.
Holidays in South West England are excuse enough eat it every day. It is here that clotted cream is said to have originated, the creation of local dairy farmers looking for a way to lessen waste and increase preservation. Local literature teems with references to the heaven-sent comestible. Mythical tales from Cornwall and Devon tell us it was used to lure giants out of hiding; poems speak of a food “on which a goddess ever more could fare.”
These days it can only be produced in Cornwall, much to the consternation of Devonians, protected from copycatting by its Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO), bestowed by those pesky bureaucrats down at the EU. Down with them and their good ideas!
The PDO stipulates that clotted cream is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, contains at least 55% of fat, and that no one should feel anything but blissfully happy when eating it. In terms of how it is made, I can but defer to the doyenne of Victorian cookery, Mrs. Isabella Beeton, who explains that it is “produced by nearly boiling the milk in shallow tin vessels over a charcoal fire, and kept in that state until the whole of the cream is thrown up.”
In truth, there are a few different methods and contemporary producers like Rodda’s, one of the bigger producers of clotted cream in Britain, use more modern tools such as a cream separator to speed up the clotting process.
Yet, in essence, clotted cream is the same as it has always been; a joyful anachronism. It has never been sexed up, dumbed down or made over, nor will it be while Britain remains a part of the EU. Oh wait…