Who doesn’t know how to skim cream? I can answer my own question by saying that while I understood the process of it, I didn’t have the privilege of doing it for myself until we got our own Jersey cow.
Prior to that, we had raw goat milk — and goat milk’s cream does not truly separate out (though some does).
Prior to that, we didn’t drink milk.
And prior to that, we drank grocery store milk.
So… only this year have I begun skimming my own cream. I love it — the cream, yes, but also the task. No, it isn’t hard. But it is special.
In today’s world, where plastic cartons of homogenized milk are the standard, you might even say that skimming your own cream is like resurrecting a lost art. Just like raising your own milk cow.
I am incredibly grateful for our Jersey and her milk and cream. As you’ll hear in the video, getting her cream has been challenging, because Gracie, our Jersey, would rather save it for her calf. But since making this video two weeks ago, Gracie has improved what she shares with us, as well as her behavior, so we’re getting there… It’s all a process, right?
I hope you enjoy this video where I demonstrate the very simple task of skimming cream. Plus I get to talking about our milk cow Gracie and how we “tricked” her into sharing more cream with us — so for all you who write to me that you enjoy hanging out with me in my kitchen via videos, this one’s for you. And for the record, I enjoy it, too. 🙂
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How to Skim Cream
There are other ways to gather cream -- like using a cream separator or a spigot jar. However, I love to do it the old-fashioned way.
Let the cream rise to the top of the milk over the course of at least 24 hours (in cold storage) and very carefully, skim it away with a ladle or wide spoon into a separate jar.
Be careful not to disturb the layers, as best you can.
The cream will be very thick at the top and get thinner toward the milk line.
I like to leave at least 1" of the lightest cream in the milk, because drinking skim milk is no fun!
Inevitably, you'll get some milk in with your cream. Or if you're skimming the heaviest cream for butter, you'll end up with some lighter weight cream, too.
Amy, an eCourse member, lets her cream layers separate in the refrigerator yet again to ensure she's getting just what she wants for the task at hand. Thanks for this tip, Amy!
A quick summary of the uses for cream: Use the heaviest cream for butter and whipping cream, and the lighter cream in your warm beverages or drizzled on soups and stews. Any cream can be kefir-ed or used for ice cream, and any cream can be soured. The thickest cream will make the thickest sour cream.
What About You?
Do you enjoy skimming cream? Have any tips to share about doing it well?
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Thanks for sharing this video! We’ve been raw milk drinkers now for going on a year and I haven’t given much thought to the process of skimming cream. I don’t usually let it sit as long, simply because we’re on a limited budget, don’t have our own cow, and are usually out of milk before I can go get more so the next morning I’m skimming the (probably more like half n half LOL) cream off for our coffee. Looking forward to spring as the organic milk from our local source has such copious and delicious cream…going to make that yearly treat of raw butter! I do the same as you, only with measuring cups as my ladle is too large to fit in my jar. As long as the light is good I can see very well where the cream is at and if any milk is getting into the cup. love your site and all the info!
Dawn — Using measuring cups is a good idea! I know you’ll love the butter when you make it this spring. 🙂
Wardee, since we don’t have our own cow, but get our raw milk from a local farmer, there is usually only about 1/2″ of cream at the top of our jars — so I don’t even bother skimming it, we just stir it into what we drink (I can buy the cream from our farmer, but it is very expensive!).
But, the reason I’m commenting is to say that this was the first video I’ve seen — and it was so fun to hear your voice! ; ) Thanks for sharing it —
Katy — Have you ever asked them if you could get milk with more cream? I’ve heard of farms catering to individual preferences. Some people want the cream and some don’t. Perhaps if they knew you wanted more cream with your milk, they’d skim less off your share. With the price you are likely paying (??) for raw milk, you’d think you could get the whole milk, you know? That’s just my opinion, of course, and I mean no harm by suggesting it!
Thanks for what you said about hearing my voice. Wish I could hear yours! 🙂
Good idea! I’ll ask next time I pickup — I’m guessing it’s just a matter of getting some of the jars they get last in the milking?
And my voice usually surprises readers, since I have a fairly thick Southern accent — and for some reason that doesn’t come through in my written word ; ) Perhaps I should write “y’all” more often?
pat winter says
The breed of cow also determines the amount of cream, Jerseys provide less than Guernseys and holsteins produce the least. The saying goes that a dime will sink in holstein cream and stand on its side in Guernsay vream. I am prejudiced however, Guernsey Gold is restoring my health quarts at a time. Please get your milk and cream from a raw milk producer and not prepasteurized stuff farmers or brokers sell on the black market. Real raw milk is health promoting while prepasteurized is sickly and in some cases deadly
Pat — Thanks for sharing more about the cream from different breeds! Pretty funny — that saying, but I believe it! I am glad you’re doing so well on Guernsey cream. I have not tried that cream, but I’ve longed to!
Well, we get our milk in typical milk gallon jugs with the small hole at top. Any tips for getting the cream out? I’ve considered buying a gallon jar to have a wider mouth. I have heard about using a turkey baster, but I’m not sure how efficient that is.
Any tips? When it’s separated out, I see a good 3-4 inches of cream usually. My kids drink it so I don’t want to take all the cream, but I’d love some for my coffee. 🙂
Elizabeth — If I were you, I’d try the turkey baster idea first, just in case it ends up working out.
Can you ask the farmer if they’d put your milk in a wider mouth jar? That would save you from disturbing the cream when transferring it from their jar to a new one.
I use my ladle, skimming from my half gallon jars. Both our Jerseys calved last week so I’m anxious to get back into my dairy-ing.
Katy, I would definitely ask my milk provider where my cream was! I would never think of skimming part of the cream from our shareholders milk, even if they asked me to (and no one has…they LOVE the cream!) I would teach them how to skim, then explain how to make butter. 🙂 Or tell them to use it in their coffee.
Robin — I’m so happy you’re in milk again! 🙂 It is wonderful that you’re sharing your bounty with others.
Great video Wardee! I also do that way. I watch the side of the jar and the cream line so that I know when I’ve hit milk, and not cream.
Tara — That’s a good point to watch the sides of the jar — I don’t remember if I mentioned that in the video or not. It might have gotten cut out. Believe it or not, I talked about cream for 20 minutes and only put about 5 in this video. 😉
I am curious — How much cream do you get in your milk share? Do you find it varies from season to season?
Wardee – great tutorial for those that wouldn’t even know that you could even do this. Believe me there are some..LOL. I skim with a ladel, a shallow ladel works best.
We are so enjoying our source of grass fed raw milk. Just called my milk lady today to add another gallon on to my weekly pick up. After waiting for a long time Lactase drops are finally available again. We ordered out of Canada. The U.S. sources aren’t desirable in that their sourcing comes out of China, where as Canada comes out of the United Kingdom. I’ve treated 2 gallons already to make the milk lactose free and it worked great. My husband can finally drink healthy raw milk. Good bye to the dead ultra pasteurized lactaid milk!!!
Pamela – It’s interesting that you need to add additional lactase to the raw milk! One of the main reasons I looked so hard for a raw milk provider is that my husband is lactose intolerant and can’t drink pasteurized milk. Since the first try he has had no problems at all with plain, whole raw milk. The reason is that raw milk naturally contains lactase, but the heat-sensitive lactase enzymes get burned off by pasteurization. Has your husband tried the raw milk alone without added lactase? I’m curious. 🙂
We buy our milk from a local farm too. We also use a Turkey baster which seems to do the trick. I like my boys to get all of the cream with their milk, but my hubby likes it a little less creamy.
When we bought milk from another dairy that had Holsteins, we hardly had any cream on top…maybe a 1/2 of an inch. But now we switched, and the new dairy has Jersey cows and we get a good 3 inches of cream or more.
We use the cream that we skim off for oatmeal, fruit, soups, casseroles, whipping cream, salad dressings and white sauces.
I also use it to make a caramel sauce for apples, or to bake with apples sprinkled with cinnamon and maple syrup.
Thanks for sharing with everyone. We are hoping to our own cow in the next year or so. For now we get our raw milk from a local farmer. I also pull the cream from our raw milk. I have been doing so for several years and making all of our butter. I use a small ladle now that we are getting our milk in half-gallon mason jars. The first 5 years that we got raw milk, we were getting ours in old-fashioned glass bottles. I used the baster and it worked well. The baster did take a little longer, but was a great solution for that type of container. Just make sure, if you try this method, that you watch the top of your milk. When you can see the thinner lighter colored milk just barely swirling through the cream, it is time to stop or you will have too much milk in your cream. It comes up through the center of the cream on top and fools you unless you know what to watch for.
I skim until there is only about 1/2 inch of cream left on the milk. I just watch the sides of the jar. I also find that we have a more consistant flavor in our milk when the cream is removed. With our new farmer, we are getting about 1 and 1/2 cups of cream per half gallon! It is wonderful. The pound or more of butter that I make each week pays for the extra gallon of milk we are getting now.
If you do decide to transfer your milk to another container, you will have to give it an extra day or so to let the cream rise back to the top of the milk. It might be easier to take an extra couple of minutes and use the baster. Plus less containers to wash. 🙂
M.E. Anders says
Thanks so much for the video clip! I truly enjoyed learning how to skim the cream, since I just got my delivery of raw milk today. 🙂
Oh, cool! Now THAT’s a great milestone. 🙂 I’m excited for you!
Oh, all this talk makes me wish we had a cow! But I think my suburban neighbors would complain. I tease that I will get a goat and tell everyone it is an ugly boutique breed of dog. I am glad someone gets to have cows, even if we can’t.
Katie Riddle says
This was fun to watch. I skim my milk the exact same way, and we use the same jars. I loved hearing about your milking techniques. We might get a dairy cow at some point, so I’m taking notes from you. 🙂
Wardee, this was great to watch. When I get my raw milk from our farmer, I usually have about 2″ of cream on the top but usually mix it right in with the rest of the milk. I think I’m going to try skimming it next time. I love watching your homesteading videos. Prayerfully, my family has about 2 more years before we venture out to an acreage 😀 I get way too anxious every time I think about it, lol!!
We ladle ours too. But we had some customers who preferred the skim milk. So I used to recommend that they use one of those glass gallon jars with the spout/spiget at the bottom. (They have them at Walmart and all kinds of places in the summer time.) The cream rises to the top and you can tap the milk from the bottom, then use your cream last. Keeping the cream layer also tends to keep the milk a little longer it seems too. We would just put it right on the front of our fridge shelf and didn’t take the jug out…it was cold milk on tap. 🙂 We used to do this when our family was smaller.
(Now, we go through it so fast and use the jars like you do. We have good size family and go through it pretty fast, so “keeping it fresh” isn’t usually our issue. 🙂 )
What’s funny is that about a day or so before you posted this, I was asking about skimming cream off raw milk and the best way too do it. I got a suggestion from Elizabeth at Nourished Life to use a turkey baster, and I’m looking forward to giving it a try.
We had been drinking raw milk for some years now and our milk always comes with a think layer of cream. I also use a Turkey baster to take the cream out. But the ladle idea seems easier. I will give it a try this week.
Thanks for the great video
Heather Heather Tate says
I just made a whole bunch of raw butter. I recieved a great tip from the dairy. Take a small knife and poke a small hole in the bottom of the plastic container. Open the top and yippee, drain the milk out untill you reach the cream line. Then pour out the yummy cream out and then enjoy! Thanks to Jackie’s Jerseys in Washington, separating cream is way easier than any of the other methods I have tried.
Wardee, I find skimming cream somehow a very relaxing/calming experience. I actually look so forward to it that I pick a time when I know I’m going to be alone in the kitchen to do it. Maybe it sounds corny but there’s just something about the procedure and taking my time with it.
I skim our milk just the way you do it, using a ladle and leaving some in the milk. I understand that the milk fat actually aides in absorption of all the goodies within the milk, so I do this for the nutritive value as well as the taste. Oh, and like Tara, I do keep an eye on the milk line from the outside.
@Elizabeth: When you get home from your milk pick-up, try pouring your milk slowly into a container w/a larger mouth, (if your farmer won’t put the milk in a wide-mouth jar). Because you are doing this right away, you won’t have to worry about having to wait for it to separate any longer than you normally would have to wait. It should be ready in 24 hrs, or maybe even a bit less.
Mmm… yummy cream! We’ve been getting raw milk for just over a year now, and I was sure to find a dairy with heritage breed cows–this one has both Jerseys and Guernseys (and no Holsteins–I’ve read some disturbing stuff about the proteins in this “modern” breed’s milk, and they make less cream anyway). I’m at work so I can’t watch the video, but I think I might send it to my hubby: He ALWAYS skims the cream off, and I end up with almost NO cream in the milk, and about 50% milk in the cream! He doesn’t read the blogs like I do, and so still thinks that the full fats are not always healthy for him… (I try to tell him to stay away from the tater tots when he’s on the road and he can have as much whole milk as he wants!
Thanks for sharing this… I’m new to your site, and having a great time!
I would enjoy hearing more about the whole dairy-at-home situation – choosing a cow, housing, feeding, milking, breeding…
Sue Rine says
We get our milk from a friend with whom I swap eggs for milk and veges for cheese. I skim it just like you do Wardee. Someone asked about differing amounts of cream through the season. This does happen. It is autumn now, (fall), here in New Zealand and the amount of cream on the milk is much greater than earlier in the season. I guess it happens that way so that as the quantity of milk drops off the calf is still getting plenty of fat so that it is in good condition to see it through the winter. Creation is a wonderful thing! Sue
It’s interesting what people are saying about amounts of cream from Holsteins. I know they tend to have less than heritage breeds, but our raw milk farmer has Holsteins and I get a LOT of cream out of our milk jars. I asked her about cream percentages and she said that she saw it go up noticeably in the years after they switched to grass-fed methods over standard feeding. So maybe it has something to do with the diet and care of the cows as well?
I separate the cream with a ladle as well. Does anyone else have problems with using it as whipped cream? I’ve done all the usual tricks like cold bowl, letting it sit in the fridge a day, etc. It doesn’t appear to have a milk in it, but it takes ages to whip up and doesn’t get that firm whipped texture. Any ideas?
Kayla Turney via Facebook says
Heather Gray-Strauch! did you ever figure it out with yours?
Jodie Hummel Godush via Facebook says
I got a couple of cheap cheap large spoons at goodwill, bent the handles, and made great skimmers! They’re good for getting the fat off gravy too 🙂
Molly Buettner Petersen via Facebook says
Maybe someday I will be lucky enough to do this!! Working full time and with 3 kids’ busy schedules, I just don’t have time to devote to a cow. Sometimes I barely get our chicken chores done. And my Raynaud’s syndrome makes me nervous to commit to it, too. My arteries in my hands and feet start to spasm at 50, so the -18 temps we have had this winter would be very painful for me if milking. I also can’t buy raw milk due to Iowa law. But maybe someday I will be able to remodel my barn to have a warm spot, then quit my job and have a milk cow. 🙂
Doletta Singer via Facebook says
I watched my granny skim cream when I was a little girl, and she used a saucer.
Alice Benham via Facebook says
Our raw Jersey milk still comes in plastic jugs, so I just poke a hole in the bottom and drain out the skim milk, and then pour the cream into a glass jar. 🙂
Thanks for this video; I’m sure a lot of folks here benefited by it. I was hoping for some new (magical) method LOL! Silly me. I have always found that when using a ladle, no matter how slow and careful I do it when I lift the ladle some skim milk always follows the bottom of the ladle thus disturbing the beautiful layering. I have found that the slower you lift the better it works but still, it’s not perfect. Now I use a plain serving spoon (like a giant soup spoon), tilt the jar carefully so that the rim sits just above the jar that I’m filling with cream. (Yes, this takes careful coordination 🙂 ) This way I can lift off the cream with a kind of sliding action rather than a dipping action. I probably should add that I always get my raw milk in 1/2 gal mason jars. Doing this method with a full gal. would be dicy. Thanks again. I love gnowfglins!
Shelly Southerland via Facebook says
I have a question. Things are different for me now living in Africa, we have access to raw milk but I still bring it to a boil. But it doesn’t separate like raw. So to make butter, do I need to take the cream of first and then boil separately?
Su Johnson via Facebook says
Teach your children well.
Pat Winter says
Do you sometimes wonder why the cream seems to be less? It depends on the part of the lactation of the cow, the season and the breed. It also depends on how your milk is bottled. If bottled right after milking and while still warm you will get more cream. If the milk has been in a bulk tank it will appear to have less cream. The agitator actually semi hydrogenates the milk.
Amy Rotunno via Facebook says
My Grandmother had a Jersey cow, chickens and a kitchen garden, on a city lot as she raised 4 boys.