3 Step Sour Cream

3 Step Sour Cream l Make your own creme fraiche and sour cream in three easy steps l Homestead Lady.comMake your own 3-step sour cream. From this one process you can create both creme fraiche and sour cream!


This is probably the easiest dairy ferment to do at home so plan to never buy sour cream again.

Raw vs. Ultra-Pasteurized Cream

Whenever I write about dairy you can assume I mean raw dairy. Especially for cultured dairy products like sour cream, raw dairy is easier and healthier to use.

I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that you try this sour cream process with UP (Ultra-Pasteurized)/UHT (Ultra High Temperature pasteurized) cream. To understand a little bit more about my objection to UP dairy, you can read this simple but informative article from Food Renegade – click here.

Apart from the health issues, UP dairy is basically dead. It will, therefore, perform erratically in the home-culturing process, if it performs at all. Feel free to try the following sour cream recipe with store bought UP cream if that’s all you can find, but be prepared for possibly different results than what’s outlined in this article. It will probably take more time to get the cream to culture with this method, if it is able to culture at all.

Finding quality dairy can be a struggle, depending on where you live. To locate fresh milk in your state, please use the raw milk finder tool from RealMilk.com – click here. At last count there were only seven states left in the U.S. where it’s still illegal to purchase raw milk. If one of those is your state, get involved through Real Milk and take that number down to six!

How to Separate Cream from Cow Milk

If you’re using pasteurized cream, you can simply buy it at the store. Please remember that I don’t recommend the purchase of cream because the law requires that it be ultra-pasteurized. Here’s a little more information on why that might not be the healthiest option for your milk – click here. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but it’s one of my soapbox issues!

Fresh, raw milk is typically not homogenized, or mixed, before it’s sold. This means that when you leave your fresh milk in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours you will see a cream line develop.

What’s a cream line? A cream line is the clear, visual separation of the cream from the rest of the milk. The cream naturally rises to the surface and is typically a bit darker in color in cow milk; this means that the cream will be slightly yellow, and the milk will be white.

For those new to non-homogenized milk, separating the cream from your milk will be one more skill to learn. Fortunately, manual cream separation isn’t difficult with cow milk. There are several different options for cream separation from cow milk.

3 DIY Ways to Get Cream
  1. Pour it off – the fast way. I’d like to tell you I’m super sophisticated when it comes to my cream separation, but I’m always short on time. I get my cow milk into the fridge and then next morning the cream line is very visible. I take out my jars, run a clean finger around the edge of the cream against the jar to break the creamy seal. Then, I slowly pour off the cream until I see the milk appear. Yes, I usually get some milk in my cream. No, it’s no big deal. Once the cream is cultured into sour cream, any residual milk will be at the bottom of the sour cream jar. This leftover milk resembles yogurt and is quite tasty. The yogurt-y milk will be MUCH more runny that the sour cream. If you want pour-able sour cream, mix the milk into the cream. If you want sour cream that is more firm, strain the contents of your jar through a length of cheesecloth and the liquid will come out.
  2. Ladle it off. Remove your jars from the fridge and run your clean finger around the inside to break the cream seal against the jar. Use a small ladle to gently spoon out the cream until you hit the milk line in the jar. The milk will be very visible – it has an almost green tinge to it as compared to the cream. You won’t get every last drop of cream with a ladle, but you probably want to leave a little in your milk anyway to keep its rich flavor.
  3. Jar with a spigot. You can pour your fresh milk into a jar with a spigot, like a lemonade jar. Allow the cream to rise and then simply drain off the milk until you empty the jar down to the cream line. This is more steps than I have time for, but it’s a super smart way to separate cream easily. In my warm, humid climate, I struggle to keep spigots clean and mildew-free so this isn’t an option I use.

A Special Note for Goat Milk:

Goat milk is naturally homogenized, which means that the fat globules are already mixed with all the other proteins and components of milk. With goat milk, the color of both milk and cream will be bright white, but you can still spy a cream line where the rich, thick cream gathers at the top of the jar.

However, it takes several days, as opposed hours with cow milk, for goat cream to rise to the top of your jar. Part of the reason for this is that the fats are simply smaller. This is why a cream separator is most often suggested for cream extraction of goat’s milk. They’re not cheap, but they do the job well for goat’s milk.

This is an extra step and associated cost with keeping backyard dairy goats. However, these smaller fat particles are part of what make goat milk easier on the digestion of people who struggle with cow milk. To learn more about the nutrition and ease of digestion of goat milk, please read this article – click here.

If you love your backyard dairy goats but don’t want to bother with a cream separator, you can do like we do and purchase fresh cow milk (or just cream, if it’s legal where you live). With this you can make all your butter and other cream products.

The technique below comes directly from our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead which contains over 400 pages of homestead how-to’s, tips and information. For example, to learn to make butter and other kitchen essentials yourself, be sure to check out The Homestead Kitchen chapter of our book, here. Don’t have your own copy? Just click here to get the one we wrote just for you!

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It’s your kitchen, so do it your way!

3 Step Sour Cream

You don’t even need to write this down – just go right into your kitchen and do it.

  1. To keep your sour cream raw, fill a quart mason jar with room temperature or slightly heated (under 100 degrees), raw or pasteurized cream. I prefer cream, but you can also use buttermilk (live active culture) for this; if you do, you can omit step two. If you want your sour cream thick and firm (more like what you find in the store), heat your cream to 175 F and keep it there for a few minutes. Cool it down to at least 120 F.
  2. Stir in a generous spoonful of previously made sour cream (this can be store bought or homemade), kefir or even kefir grains (strain these out after step 3 is complete). This will be your starter culture, which simply kick-starts your sour cream and gives it flavor.
  3. Add a loose fitting lid and let the cream sit on your counter for twenty four to forty eight hours. The longer it sits, the more cultured, and therefore more flavorful, it will be. The cream will thicken as it cultures. If you want to speed up the process, you can insulate the jar in several layers of towels in an ice chest or an insulated bag like the ones I use in this article. If you insulate the cream while it cultures, it should be done in about twelve hours. For the first twelve hours, this cream is more correctly called crème fraiche and is still slightly sweet. It becomes tart as it cultures longer, becoming more like the American version of sour cream. David Asher explains in his book The Art of Natural Cheesemaking,

Crème fraiche (pronounced krem fresh–French for “fresh cream”) is lightly fermented, thickened cream. By adding culture to full-fat cream, then allowing that cream to ferment, the cream slowly becomes acidic. Once it passes a certain acidity, the cream suddenly thickens into crème fraiche. If left to ferment longer, the thickened cream continues to sour and eventually becomes what North Americans know as sour cream.”

That’s it. Yeah, I’m serious.

A Few More Sour Cream Tips

Here are a few more pointers:

  1. Raw cream has its own bacterial set and will culture, usually, quicker than pasteurized cream. In fact, to make “cultured cream,” all you need to do is leave plain cream (no starter) on your counter until it clabbers, or thickens.
  2. Pasteurized dairy should always be handle with care because it will spoil, instead of culture like raw dairy. Just be sure to mix your starter culture into your cream well (step 2) and it will turn out splendidly.
  3. To hurry along the culturing process, you can warm the cream slightly in a pan before culturing – no more than 90 degrees is necessary. You can also place your sour cream in your Excalibur dehydrator on its lowest setting for culturing. Like I said, I usually put mine into my Wonder Ovens with my homemade yogurt jars to incubate where the cream stays slightly warm without my having to heat it separately.
  4. When using raw cream, you may notice fluctuations in results during the year. In the late winter, for example, I often notice a thinning in the cream and a slightly sour flavor as winter hay runs low and the cows are yearning for the fat, verdant pastures of spring. The way I counteract those less appealing results is to add a little extra culture to the batch and be sure to strain it after it has incubated. It’s all good.
  5. The end product is slightly softer than store bought sour cream. To thicken it, you can strain it through some cheese cloth for a few hours.
  6. Strain  this product overnight for a delightful, sweet cream cheese. To learn how to do that, I use in this article.
  7. Always use clean containers, lids, and utensils.

More Do It Yourself Dairy

3 Step sour cream is brought to you today in part from the awesomest dairy ferment book ever, The Art of Natural Cheesemaking (page 97), although Mr. Asher shows you how to do a myriad more of cool things with cream. My favorite thing about this book is that he explains how to make cheeses and cultured dairy products without the use of commercial cultures – he even shows you how to make your own rennet!

Read a review of this book here.

Purchase it here:

For some more easy dairy ferments, check out the following:

Homemade Feta Cheese – don’t be intimidated by the word “cheese”. This is so, so easy.

Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment can teach you how to make Yogurt (never buy this again because it’s simple to make) and Milk Kefir Cheese .

To learn more about what you can do with Wonder Oven, please visit Megan at My Food Storage Cookbook – in fact, she just came out with a cookbook for Wonder Ovens.

Have you ever made your own dairy products? Have a favorite?

Thanks for joining us for this latest Kitchen Quick Tip.

Would you like more tips for the homestead kitchen? Just turn to The Homestead Kitchen chapter of The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have a copy, get your own here. If you’d like a FREE sample from the kitchen chapter, simply email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com.

DisclaimerInformation offered on the Homestead Lady website is for educational purposes only. Read my full disclaimer HERE.

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4 thoughts on “3 Step Sour Cream

  1. So let me get this straight.
    #1- I can buy buttermilk from the store
    #2- put it into a mason jar with the lid fitted loosely
    #3- let it sit for 48 hours
    #4-then it is sour cream
    #5- strain it to thicken it
    PLEASE tell me if I am correct because we love sour cream.

    1. The short answer is, yes! Each batch of buttermilk, especially once it’s been pasteurized, will beAhave differently – brand to brand is going to be different. Also, buttermilk isn’t quite as thick as cream. Those are my two cautions but, yes, it will clabber and you will get a sour creamy product. When we start making our own dairy products, we need to be prepared for them to be different from store bought just because we don’t usually include all the additives they do to thicken and even color the product. So, you may need to fiddle around with your buttermilk and your process until you hit something you like best.

      As I said, I prefer cream because of the end result but that’s totally relative. If you aren’t satisfied with just buttermilk, maybe try a mixture of both. Or, use mostly cream and just a few tablespoons of buttermilk to culture the cream. Or stand on your head while it cultures or sing it a song. 🙂 The point is, dairy ferments are varied, tasty and easy to experiment with at home.

      One last caution, watch it as it cultures because if the ambient temperature is really warm, it can move past souring and thickening to soft cheese. Which is NOT bad, it will just have a different texture than sour cream. If that happens, mix it with herbs and salt and spread it on baked potatoes. See, not bad at all.

      Let me know if you have questions or problems! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I love sour cream. Can’t buy it where I live, but I can get fresh milk. My question is…how do I get the cream from the fresh milk? I’m assuming I need to do something to the milk to separate the cream out?

    1. What a smart question, Janay! I’ll go amend the article right now to include that information. Sometimes you do something for so long that you forget it was once new to you.

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