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Devonshire Clotted Cream, Devon

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If you were to ask visitors to the South West for the culinary highlight of any trip to the area, itís a good bet the majority would mention clotted cream. Served on a home-baked scone with strawberry jam it is part of the perfect afternoon tea.

Devon generally takes the glory for the product, though Cornwall produces it too. Itís a matter for speculation as to why it should have developed in the Devon and Cornwall peninsula and not to any great extent elsewhere in Britain. Devon of course has lush pasture and a mild climate, perfect for cattle to graze on and produce milk with high butterfat content, but then so do several other counties. There are also plenty of Jersey and Guernsey herds kept in the county, though which came first the clotted cream or those breeds of cattle is unclear, as is the spur to make it: clotted cream keeps better than ordinary cream, but was it made for that reason, or for its sublimely creamy taste?

Clotted cream is made in a simple process, but it requires great care. The cream is separated from the pasteurised milk, and then after ripening (if a stronger flavour is sought for the end product) this cream is gently heat treated to form the golden crust that is clotted cream. This heat treatment is done with pans of cream lowered into bain-maries, the water there kept a little below boiling point. Knowing the right temperature and the correct length of time to keep the cream heated is said to be something of a black art, though around two hours is said to be typical.

It is perfectly possible and enjoyable to eat clotted cream on its own. The French would Iím sure. It is also a wonderful ingredient in the regional cuisine of Devon and Cornwall, particularly in pastry making and baking, its use refined in the at least 400 years since it was first made. But the simple perfection of scone, cream, and jam takes some beating.

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