Creme fraiche from the dairies

THE Times tasting panel met recently to compare brands of creme fraiche available in the Los Angeles area. Joining me on the panel were staff writers Corie Brown and Charles Perry, assistant food editor Betty Hallock, food editor Leslie Brenner and deputy features editor Michalene Busico. We tasted each creme fraiche plain, then we whipped them to see how they held up.

The variances in flavor (subtly tangy to downright tart), texture (semi-liquid to stiff) and color (snowy white to buttery yellow) were surprising.

As Perry noted, "It was an eye-opening and artery-closing experience."

Kendall Farms. The winner, by a narrow margin, Sadie Kendall's creme fraiche was silky and creamy, white as Elmer's glue, with a pronounced, lasting tang and an almost sticky texture. Dissenters thought it tasted a bit like mayonnaise. Although it's fairly liquid, Kendall Farms won the whip test hands down, whipping up into the most billowy soft peaks. Available at Say Cheese (323) 665-0545 and Surfas (310) 559-4770, 7.5 ounces, about $5.25. Best to call in advance, as it's not always in stock.

Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. A close second, this creme fraiche is rich, thick and custardy, with a medium tang. It received praise for its velvety texture, but some testers thought it tasted too buttery. On the thick side, it whipped to stiff peaks -- a little too stiff. Available at select Whole Foods Markets, 8 ounces, about $4.30.

Alta Dena. A dense, smooth creme fraiche with a delicate tang that some tasters rather liked, but others found too mild. When whipped, it turned into a liquid mess (milk has been added so it's not 100% heavy cream). Available at select Bristol Farms, Gelson's, Ralph's and Whole Foods, 8 ounces, about $3.

Bellwether Farms. This entry has an appealing light and creamy texture, but it lacked a pronounced tang. "No zip" was the consensus, but it does whip up to nice medium-soft peaks. Available at select Trader Joe's and Bristol Farms, 7.5 ounces, about $3.

-- Jenn Garbee

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