What do Tolkien’s Hobbits, the Cornish Giant Blundabore, and Edmund Spenser have in common?
The answer; Clotted Cream.
Clotted cream is at the heart of every quintessentially British Cream Tea. Slavered onto scones, melting unctuously beside a warm sticky toffee pudding or just in a bowl alongside a pile of freshly picked, fragrant, seasonal berries. Clotted Cream is one of those delights which spring into your mind as you reach the end of the M5, putting off thoughts, for a while at least, of the long, winding A39 stretching out before you.
Cornish Clotted Cream officially received its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) stamp in 1998 and today, Rodda’s near Redruth is Britain’s largest producer, although many smaller artisanal dairies produce this, most revered of creams, throughout the West Country. It is also known as Devonshire Cream or Clouted Cream, the clouts or clots rising to the top during its manufacturing process giving that crunchy, yet yielding crust to every pot.
Although its origins are a little unclear, The Oxford Companion to Food , which is an absolute joy to read, suggests that it may have been introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders in search of tin, although there is a considerable amount of folklore attached to this theory. I believe that the reason for its original creation is most likely related to the preservation, before refrigeration, of dairy products. Simply put, the higher the fat content the better a product keeps, take butter for example. Recent studies have suggested that the, once mysterious, manmade underground caves, or ‘Fogous’, which are often found in Atlantic coastal areas are actually underground storage areas for keeping produce fresh, dairy included, and we know that in the 14th century Monks were producing Clotted Cream in Devon monasteries.
Traditionally made in shallow bowls in farmhouse kitchens the fresh milk is left to stand until the cream rises to the top and then heated very slowly until the clots formed. These were then skimmed off. Interestingly enough, with a minimum 55% fat content, Clotted Cream would actually be considered butter in America.
Popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries, it was often flavoured with rose water and served alongside the ever popular Junkets and is greatly favoured by the legendary Sir Kenelm Digby whose posthumously-written eponymous, cookery book, ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened’, is a wonderful guide to food and drink in Carolingian and Restoration Britain.
So, to the great debate; do you eat your cream tea Cornish style (jam first) or Devon style (cream first)? Both have their merits, but I suppose for me, it depends on the jam’s consistency.
And the little question at the beginning? Well, Hobbits, of course, consider Clotted Cream a staple food (who wouldn’t); Blunderbore, the giant of ‘Jack the Giant Hunter’ fame was fed clotted cream by Jenny who was to become his fourth wife, (so it obviously has aphrodisiacal qualities as well!) And finally, a few words on the subject from Edmund Spenser;
‘Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
For she would call him often heam,
And give him curds and clouted cream’
This post is not sponsored by Rodda’s, but was written on my own volition after receiving some of their lovely products and deciding to find out exactly what Clotted Cream was all about!