Let's say I have fresh, raw, unpasteurized milk, just obtained from a local cow owner who milked the cow within the last hour, the milk is still slightly warm from the cow's body heat. In what conditions it should stand and for how long, to obtain thick, traditional Romanian smântână, viscous to the point that it would not flow out of a cup when its turned over.

I know such smântână is sold by old ladies on the farmers markets in Romania. What to do if my smântână doesn't turn out like that, even having the same milk, from the same cow, bought from them, not skimmed. For the educational purpose of the question let's assume they are not cheating me and selling me milk with some cream already skimmed, that can be a factor, but let's eliminate all other possible factors before accusing the cow lady.

Traditional Romanian smântână differs from traditional French thick high-fat crème fraîche. Creme fraîche is made from pasteurized cream and has a bacterial starter culture added, while smântână had no pasteurization done at any point and no cultures are added, only the milk's natural bacteria are making it. This process is without the use of a centrifuge or separator, as separator-made smântână is much more liquid.

I am not sure if smântână is considered a cultured product or not, as while it is said it should not be sour, but it certainly ferments a little while standing, only not as much as soured milk or yogurt? The Wikipedia page mentions "Smântână taste is tangy and sweet, a soured smântână is considered as spoiled."

I am looking for information on the parameters to obtaining a thick, highly viscous, non-flowing smântână, for example:

  • The temperature at which to keep the milk
  • The time to keep it at that temperature from the moment of milking the cow till smântână is ready
  • Anything else I should know to ensure I obtain a thick, highly viscous cream which doesn't taste sour

The correct answer will be only one which refers specifically to the Romanian traditional way, ideally from someone with knowledge from a Romanian grandmother, or otherwise having knowledge how it was traditionally done, before there were fridges and separators. Any other ways to obtain cream, any procedure not specifically from Romanian tradition, is outside the scope of this question.

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    – Jolenealaska
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 4:43

2 Answers 2


I can't give you the Romanian recipe but I doubt it differs much from Polish.

First, Start with cow milk. It must be genuine unprocessed milk - absolutely not cooked, UHT, preserved, skim, lactose-free or other 'inventions' where the natural bacterial flora has been killed and the milk will rot instead of souring.

Make the standard fresh cream. There were traditional tools for that but a centrifugal separator will do just fine, with far less effort; the technology doesn't 'spoil' this part.

Don't go over the top with fat content. The American creams are ludicrously fatty. 14-18% of fat content is normal, up to 30% is okay but really unnecessary and will make it harder to achieve the right results.

Then put the sweet cream in a clean ceramic jar, cover with a clean cloth that allows air through but will stop insects, and leave in a slightly cool place - temperature of order of 18 Celsius degrees (although 'cooler side' of room temperature is fine). Let it sit overnight and if you started with genuine unprocessed cow milk, it will sour and thicken into the traditional sour cream with a layer of transparent whey on the bottom.

  • Thank you for the information, this is interesting, but I have the suspicion that it does differ significantly from Romanian smântână. I do have some bits of information how it is done, and from all I know, there is no 2-step process of first extracting "fresh cream" and then letting it sour. Romanian smântână is not even supposed to taste sour, but "tangy and sweet". And the "make standard fresh cream" would need a lot more details, how long do you wait from the moment you milk the cow? Remember we are doing this because we have a cow or know someone who has a cow and we just had it milked.
    – lowtoxin
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 23:49
  • @yann: Maybe, never tried Romanian. I just know thickness of sour (meaning any level of tanginess) comes from the souring process, not from fat content. For waiting, I know both milk that was just short of going sour was okay to use, and milk literally diverted to the separator from the milking machine on the way to the tank, not even 10 seconds old; they will just differ in time it takes to go soured but the end result is the same.
    – SF.
    Commented Aug 8, 2020 at 9:29
  • You forgot to mention the one processing step that milk really cannot have if you want to gather the cream: it should not be homogenized.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 13:10
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX Are there any cows which give homogenized milks?
    – lowtoxin
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 19:32
  • @yannn: no. Homogenization is mixing the milk very thoroughly in a way that distributes the fat evenly in very tiny droplets. The milk as it comes out of the cow has droplets of fat, which will fuse and grow and finally form the cream clot at the top after some time. The mixing/homogenizing distributes them as much smaller droplets. The smaller droplets won't separate easily, so you cannot get the cream by waiting.
    – cbeleites
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 20:11

I will admit that I have never been to Romania and will base my answer on the guess that "smântână" is a loanword from the Slavic "smetana" - which is highly probable given my knowledge of the mixing of language and culture on the Balkans, and your description of the final product.

The English word for it is "cream". Typically, cream is in the range between 30% and 50% fat, although the transition to milk on the lower side and butter on the high side is fluid. Outside of pastry chefs, most people nowadays are familiar with the 30% to 33% "whipping cream" sold in supermarkets, and may be surprised to encounter products with much higher fat and hear that they are still considered "cream". What you want is probably 45% and above, making it "double cream".

The way of obtaining a thicker cream is to simply increase its fat content. The fast way is by a separator, the slow way is by letting it sit. The starting product can be milk, raw or not, or already-made cream (by separator or by sitting), as long as it has no stabilizers (look on the label for the words "stabilizer" or "carrageenan"). A separator is perfectly suited to making thicker (higher fat) cream, you just have to let it run longer than for the whipping cream sold in supermarkets.

So let's assume you wish to start from raw milk. What you should do is:

  • put it in a vessel of your choice. Preferably one with a wide opening (like a pot) rather than one with a narrow opening (like a bottle). Make sure you can close the vessel reasonably well (a normally fitting lid on a cooking pot will do).
  • put the vessel in the fridge and let it sit undisturbed.
  • when the smântână has built up, gather it.

To go to your points one by one:

  • the temperature: Do it in the fridge. The traditional way of doing it outside is unsafe.
  • the time to sit: Several days. It's impossible to give you an exact number, you have to gather it when you consider it good enough
  • the way it is traditionally separated: By any way you can accomplish the task. You can gather it with a spoon, or with a slotted spoon, or you can attempt to pour out the milk only without disturbing the cream.
  • "Anything else I should know to increase the chance of obtaining a thick, highly viscous cream which doesn't taste sour"
    • if the stuff you get feels too liquid to you, you might want to switch to a multi-step process where you gather the top layer roughly, with a bit of milk still in, transfer it to another vessel, and wait for this slightly-concentrated cream to cream up even better.
    • instead of starting with raw milk, start with whipping cream from the store and leave it to sit in its original sealed container until shortly before its best-by date.

Note that there isn't that much fat in milk, and the traditional method is also rather inefficient, so about 50 g of cream per liter of milk would be a great result. Don't wait too long in the hope to see more cream building, the time you can wait is bound by the milk spoiling.

You also asked if it's not cultured. Cultured smetana is a different product (I suppose it exists in Romania too, but don't know the term for it). People talking and writing about the two don't always bother to mention the qualifier "cultured". I don't know if you may actually want the cultured product, but to have happened upon descriptions of the non-cultured one and to have mixed them up.

If you want cultured smetana as widespread on the Balkans (it has a different texture and is more sour than the noncultured one described above, but without being spoiled), you have to obtain a L. bulgaricus based yogurt culture and use it to culture whipping cream (not milk), using the exact process prescribed for making yogurt with it. You can obtain the pure culture - Laboratory Genesis ships throughout Europe, I believe - and it will have instructions. Or you can buy yogurt labelled "Bulgarian yogurt" in the supermarket and use it as the starter - here, you can follow a standard yogurt recipe, but remember that L. Bulgaricus is thermophilic, so you should incubate at 43-46 C for best results.

And now for the difference to the creme fraiche. The most traditional smântână (the "sweet" one made by sitting) does indeed have some bacterial activity in it, it is made by leaving the milk at room temperature. But you have no way to control the proportion of lactobacillic bacteria to pathogens multiplying by it. The texture and smell (being spoiled) is a very rough way of recognizing the worst batches, but even in the properly prepared ones, you will be consuming significant amounts of common pathogenic bacteria, and with some of them, you will also be consuming less common, but more dangerous ones like listeria. So, if you choose to do it that way, be aware that 1) you have a rather short window of consuming it between the cream forming and spoiling, and 2) when you consume it (before it has visibly spoiled) you are already deep in what is considered unsafe by modern standards.

The difference between modern cultured smântână and creme fraiche is not the use of a starter, it is the culture used in the starter. Creme fraiche is done with a different species of bacteria in the starter.

  • Thank you for your answer, some useful information here, though still hoping to hear from someone with a Romanian grandmother. Though a few comments: the scope of the question is to describe only the traditional process, of making it from raw milk from a cow just being milked. Anything involving purchasing anything from a commercial source, like "whipping cream" is out of the scope of the question. Also what is considered "unsafe" by currently prevailing thinking in western countries should not override that I am specifically asking about the traditional method. Thanks!
    – lowtoxin
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 8:43
  • 1
    @yannn The process is the same in all countries, you don't need a Romanian grandmother for it. I added in parallel some info on going "fully traditional" by leaving it outside - note that even the fridge process is unsafe, but by doing it out of the fridge, you are no longer playing a game of chance, you are getting into an area where you are almost certain to suffer negative consequences with repeated consumption.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 8:49

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