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Two questions about Straus cream-top milk

I have two questions about Strauss cream top milk in the glass jar.

First, what exactly does one do with the cream on top? I wonder, is the milk underneath still considered whole milk, even though the cream isn't homogenized into it like other milks? Or is it more akin to skim?

Second, this stuff goes sour very quickly on me. I'm finding that it sours a few days prior to the expiration date, or about 4 days after I buy it. Is that normal?

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  1. 1. Some people mix it back in. I usually scoop it out and spread it on a scone, brownie, strawberry, etc. The milk is pretty rich without the cream top, so I have no complaints. I think strauss also sells skim with cream top as well.

    2. Yes, it does go sour pretty quick. I think it has to do with their milder pasteurization process. Mine usually lasts about a week. What helps is to keep it very cold--turn your refrigeration down a notch, don't let it linger at room temperature. Whatever you do, don't let people drink straight out of the bottle! Also, I think that shaking it to get the cream top back into the milk tends to shorten the shelf life, but that could be all in my mind.

    8 Replies
    1. re: sfbing

      The 2% has some cream on top, but the skim doesn't really have a cream top. I also like to scoop it out and put it on bread or scones, but I notice sometimes if I've walked home or driven on some bumps, the cream has been shaken back in and there's not much to scoop up.

      And yes, it does go bad more quickly because it's not ultra-pasteurized. Keep it very cold all the way home, leave it in the back of the fridge, and if you're going to shake the cream back in do it with a full bottle but not after you've poured some out .

      1. re: Pei

        Straus is pasteurized using the same HTST process as most other milk. It's just not homogenized. In my experience it keeps just as long.

        The skim doesn't have a cream top because the cream has been skimmed off. Hence the 0% fat.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          iirc, Straus milk is pasteurized (HTST) but not ultra-pasteurized (UHT, about 280 degrees), which a lot of cheaper milk is.

          1. re: Pei

            Yes. And Strauss pasteurizes to the lowest allowable temperature as well, so it spoilers faster than other brands that aren't ultra-pasteurized (like Clover).

            1. re: Aaron

              It often takes me over two weeks to go through a half-gallon, and it never goes sour on me.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Question: Are you buying actual Strauss label milk or are you buying the Trader Joe's stuff?

                1. re: sfbing

                  I buy Straus label or Trader Joe's depending on which is more convenient. I don't notice any difference except in the price.

              2. re: Aaron

                I believe all dairies in the US that use HTST pasteurization use the lowest allowable temperature. Only UHT pasteurization uses a higher temp. Pasteurization is heavily monitored and regulated, there's no reason to go above the recommended temp (which is set as the lowest possible temp to yield a 5-log reduction of spoilage and pathogenic microbes) unless you're doing UHT.

                In the EU, they also use a lower temp process called thermalization but that's illegal here if you are using the pasteurized label (still considered raw).

      2. I shake the milk vigorously. If you skim off the cream, what's left is skimmed milk (that's why they call it skim).

        Often the cream has solidified and I have to use a whisk (this never used to happen).

        It keeps fine for me. Have you checked your refrigerator with a thermometer? Mine's about 40F.

        1. As sfbing said, you can mix the cream back in but I prefer to put it on a scone or biscuit along with some jam, it's like English clotted cream. Delicious.

          Hmm, I've never noticed it going sour quickly, but maybe we go through our half gallon bottle faster than most?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Kosmonaut

            If you're going to skim off the cream, why not buy skim milk and cream separately? Don't want that much cream?

            I've been buying Straus since they were only at the farmers market and I think I've had only one bottle of milk go sour.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              The cream at the top of Straus cream top more closely resembles the thick, spreadable texture of English clotted cream.

          2. I don't understand why they can't just make non-cream-top 2% milk. You'd think living in the Bay Area we could get glass-bottled homogenized and pasteurized milk that still comes from small locally-owned family farms. Of the three places I've most recently lived - NC, VA, and here, only here can I not find it. That's just wrong considering how much we pride ourselves on local foods movement.

            12 Replies
            1. re: mikeh

              The local foods movement came out of the natural / organic foods movement. Homogenization is (with very rare exceptions) artificial, accomplished by running the milk through a machine invented in 1899.

              Straus's FAQ says, "We do not homogenize our milk because we like a natural product bottled the way it comes out of the cow." It might also be significant that a pasteurizer-bottler costs around $65,000 while a similar machine with homogenization costs around $155,000.

              Pasteurization is also artificial, of course, but there are a lot of legal obstacles to selling raw milk and none to selling unhomogenized milk.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Note that homogenization (the pushing of the liquid through a small orofice to break up the fat globules and create a smooth product) will eventually revert itself if you let the milk sit for awhile (awhile being a week or two with no movement).

                1. re: skwid

                  From the earliest days, we wanted to produce minimally-processed milk ... our decision to not homogenize was part of that philosophy, and had zip to do with cost of equipment (believe me, we weren't spending all that much on equipment either!)

                  If you let the cream separate and skim it off the top, that'll make the rest of your milk pretty much nonfat (though there might still be a little cream lurking in suspension).

                  Milk souring ... generally, that's an issue with refrigeration - should never go sour before the expiration date, and often the milk lasts longer. Worth checking with your store, and checking your own fridge settings. If it's neither, definitely contact the creamery.

                  // MIchael Straus (no longer in the family biz - this month, however, marked the 17 year anniversary of Straus Family Creamery, and I just wrote about those early days on Ethicurean ... there's a link from my blog ... www.MichaelStraus.ORG/my-articles

                  1. re: MichaelStraus

                    Thinking out loud. I sure wish Strauss would supply their Barrista milk for retail sale to some outlets. Even some selected coffee houses would be great.

                        1. re: poser

                          So if Straus is the source for TJs organic cream-top milk, then who provides their homogenized, if it's not Straus?

                            1. re: Spatlese

                              I'm not sure who provides Trader Joe's homogenized organic milk (never bothered to research it since I don't like the flavor), but it's definitely not Straus.

                              1. re: Spatlese

                                Last time I checked I'm pretty sure it was Clover.

                                1. re: lexdevil

                                  After a tour of Clover Stornetta this fall, my understanding is they supply SOME of (local) TJs homogenized milk, but definitely not all.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Although the process of homogenization was patented in 1899, it wasn't widespread until the 1950s. It was a boon to families like ours that had milk delivered to their front porch before dawn in sub-zero temperatures. The cream would freeze solid and expand a couple of inches above the top of the bottle (which is why fitted waxed paper caps were used). You'd have to let the bottle thaw out before remixing.

                      I don't consider the process of forcing the cream through fine tubes to break up the fat into smaller globules "unnatural." One could also say the making of butter is "unnatural." because of mechanical intervention.

                  2. I have noticed there IS no more cream on top of the "cream top" Trader Joe's organic whole milk. A few years ago there was that chunky thick hard to mix up cream on top. Then I noticed in Oregon a year ago there was less and less of it and now there is zero in San Diego. It says it is non-homogenized but if that's true, WHERE IS THE CREAM????? I usually get my milk at a farm in Oregon and the cream always floats to the top a few hours after it is out of the cow and in a jar. It is easily mixed in with the milk after a couple of shakes. That is the natural way cow's milk is. I drank it when I was a teen also and the cream always rose to the top and was shaken up easily. I feel like something is not right with this "cream top" milk at Trader Joe's. Does anyone else feel this way? How can I find out where the cream is?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: karencandance

                      There's always cream on the top of the Straus cream-top milk I buy regularly at various Trader Joe's in the Berkeley area. The distribution seems to be limited: I was working near San Jose last year and the stores down there carried only the regular homogenized organic milk.

                    2. I buy Strauss Dairy Milk clear up here in Oregon, I have to drive to Eugene from Myrtle Creek to get it but I do it because it is worth it. I have never had any problem with spoilage. I have to buy in bulk and keep it for the next weekly trip; I keep the unopened jars toward the back of fridge where it is coldest. I often have my last jar opened up on the sale date and it is good for 3-5 days after it is opened (that is past the 3-5 days past date stamp)I am one of the ones who shakes the cream back into the milk and I drink it that way. I think maybe you need to check the temp of your fridge just as someone else said.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: crickett2000

                        Good point about keeping it in the back of the fridge. Most people put milk in the door, which is the warmest part of the fridge and exposed to room temperature air every time the door is opened. Things that are kept in the back, where it's colder keep a lot longer.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I keep mine in the door. As I said before, it usually takes me about two weeks to go through a half gallon and it never sours. I do have a fairly modern and efficient refrigerator.

                        2. re: crickett2000

                          Whole Foods explained to me (I asked why two bottles went bad before the expiration date) that the milk is meant to be opened by the "sell by" date, but that the milk itself is only intended to last 3-4 days after opening. Maybe a week.

                          1. re: abacus111

                            It mostly depends on how you store it. Most people put their milk in the door compartments, which is the very worst place to put it, since it's repeatedly exposed to room temperature air or towards the front of the shelves. Stick it in the back of your fridge and it will last a lot longer.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I have been buying and using a lot of Strauss milk for cheesemaking. I generally find that whole foods has the freshest milk, even when closer to the sell by date, because of colder storage temps. The best way to check freshness is to tilt the glass and see if there's a "cream top". You _don't_ want a cream top, because then the milk has been jostled and settled. ( I often go from store to store, looking at the milk in three or four stores on the same day, before I buy). Generally, all the Strauss milk in my area will be from the same day's production.

                              I did have a problem with curd formation in one batch, where buying a second set of milk ( from a different store but the same production day ) gave me the same process problem. Because cheesemaking is what it is, I can't isolate that problem to the milk - but I've never had that problem since, the milk was the greatest suspect.

                              I don't store my milk at home, we only buy when we're making cheese and consume the milk within hours.

                              I don't know if the "wheresmymilkfrom.com" link is further up in this chain, but I found the one time I tried TJ's packaging of strauss cream top, it was very settled out and old, and didn't make great cheese.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                In my experience, the cream is always on the top unless I shake it up. The difference between stores is that at some places the cream often clots into a lump that doesn't dissolve when I shake it. That's independent of the sell-by date so I presume it must have something to do with storage temperatures.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  The cream is not at the top if the time between delivery and sale is short. I have noticed in the store where I get my Straus, if the milk has a sell by date 16 days from the purchase date there is never any fat at the top. 12 days, then there are some. And I have to stir them back in with some utensils. I personally prefer no cream accumulating so I don't have to deal with the hassle of stirring back in. Once I get my milk home, if i haven't opened a bottle I make sure I shake them every two days to keep the cream from accumulating.

                                  The longer the milk has been sitting, the thicker the cream layer is at the top, and it's impossible to shake them loose. With just a thin layer it's possible, but with the little air space it's difficult to distribute the cream back inti the milk evenly unless one shakes very vigorously. But then I worry about the slippery and heavy glass bottle flying out of my hand.

                                  Whole foods has storage in the back of the store as they make sure they have supplies so they don't run out on the shelves. So their milk may sit a few days longer than smaller grocery stores that only store milk on the shelves. They usually have cream at the top at the Los altos, Palo Alto and Campbell stores dependent on how long it has been sitting.

                                  Trader joes store their milk even longer. Hence the cream top label. Like as if that's a selling point.

                                  Ironically with the non homogenized milk I have had people I know who mistakened the milk as coagulated or frozen when they tried to pour and nothing came out.

                                  1. re: ckshen

                                    I don't think I've ever seen a bottle where the cream hadn't separated, even when I bought them direct from Straus at the farmers market.

                                    If the cream has merely separated simply shaking the bottle will mix it. I guess my hands are big enough not to worry about the bottle slipping.

                                    If nothing comes out when you pour, the cream has thoroughly clotted.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      In the freshest bottles I've bought, there is a very very small light ring of cream where the milk hits the glass. Sometimes it doesn't go all the way around. It might be about 2mm x 1mm. This is hardly noticeable.

                                      In the most separated ones, there is a plug 1cm deep that needs tools to get at the milk. These days, I just don't buy the milk if it looks like that.

                        3. My family had cows for over 30 years, but I've never seen this type of cream at the top of the milk. the caws were always grass fed. The straus cream seems hydrogenized more like margarine. when you warm it up looks like vegetable oil. The real organic milk yes has cream at the top but not this texture, nor taste.

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Only jersey, in europe. The milk has alot of cream, it rises to the top, if you warm the milk up the cream does not rise like bubbles of fat at the top (like fat of vegetable origin). If you let the raw milk to sit for more than one day the fat rises up and in couple days the milk becomes yougourt. The cream becomes bitter if you let it sit for too long. The first time I tasted the straus milk and others I knew the cream was artificial. The taste is so fake, but you can only tell if you are used with the real taste. There is now way the straus milk and others alike is genuine organic, even the price is too low. The only good thing about the straus milk is non homogenized, that's why i buy it other than that is like regular.

                            2. re: iosifion

                              As I noted above, the cream at the top of some bottles of Straus has solidified (clotted?). It seems to be specific to certain stores, which suggests to me that it must have to do with storage. It often happens at Trader Joe's, I'm not sure I've ever seen it at Berkeley Bowl. At TJ's I look through the jugs and if possible find one that's liquid.

                            3. I've been making cheese with Strauss "cream top", and have some notes

                              This strauss (glass bottles, red tops) is highly recommended for home cheesemaking. It's very widely available, tastes great, although the price is fairly high (available between $9 and $11/gal).

                              You don't want the milk to have a cream top. You want the milk to have NO cream top, because you want the cream in the milk. The cream won't really get back in the milk in any way. A small ring at the top of the bottle is fine, but if there's a crust, you're paying for whole and getting skim.

                              You can get Strauss about two weeks (10 days, for sure) before its expiration time. Whole Foods rotates its stock very well and stores at a lower temp. Safeway tends to have very fresh stock, I've been finding which of my local safeways have a deeper and fresher stock. Sometimes, I see stock a week old, it's got a lot of cream on top, and I don't buy it.

                              The TJ that is Strauss (where's my milk from!) tends to be a lot older, and has very noticeable cream, and a much lower price. You get what you pay for.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: bbulkow

                                Since it's not homogenized, the cream always rises to the top of Straus's whole- and low-fat milk after it has been sitting on the shelf for a few hours, but it should mix back in when you shake the bottle.

                              2. Trader Joe (SoCal) has stopped carrying TJ-branded Straus Cream Top as of Oct 15. Can the Bay Area folks confirm it's still available up in da bay?

                                15 Replies
                                1. re: TonyC

                                  None at the two stores in Berkeley and Oakland where I usually bought it.

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    Are you specifically asking about TJ creamtop, or Strauss-in-glass?

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      Trader Joe's never had Straus-labeled milk.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        So he's asking about the Strauss glass bottles?

                                        Or is he asking about the TJ branded "cream top" milk that happened to usually be Strauss ?

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          He's explicitly asking about TJ's. It was always Straus, they're the sole commercial producer of unpasteurized organic milk around here.

                                    2. re: TonyC

                                      Stonestown TJ's did not have cream-top available on 10/24, but Greenbrae TJ's did have cream top available on 10/25.

                                      1. re: tronson888

                                        thanks everyone.

                                        TJ got back me today and said they "didn't stop carrying it", Straus stopped production. This seems a bit weird to me since I still see the Straus-branded milk at both Whole Foods and Sprouts.

                                        I'm assuming due to the insane feed pricing and the draught, Straus has stopped selling to TJ due to lower profitability.

                                        TJ also advised they will start carrying the milk as soon as the production is restarted. Whatever that means. Seeing I haven't seen rain where I am for... o... a few months, I'm going to say this product is a goner.

                                        Clover has also completely stopped selling to retailers here in LA except for WF. Somebody up in Sonoma (besides the Belcampo folks) need to start hiring witches and Indian chiefs to pray for rainstorms, STAT.

                                        1. re: TonyC

                                          Hi Tony, thanks for sharing the info from TJ. My recollection is that organic milk has a stipulated minimum for percent of time that the cows have to be grazing on pasture. It may be that there's not enough pasture available to support a bigger herd now.

                                          Believe me, we have all kinds of rain dances going on. I'm typing from beautiful Sonoma County right now. We had a pretty good rainy day last Saturday. It was enough to cancel some outdoor events, but not quite enough to wash off my car (that has not been washed for seven months). And more rain is coming on Friday.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            The USDA issued a variance relaxing the requirements due to the drought:


                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              Good to know about the rain dances and the intermittent precipitation. I understand the state needs 15" of rain fall to effectively halt the draught, and that's just not going to happen.

                                              Hence we've switched off to Shremick's, and this organic milk hunt has made a severe impression on me. I've stared to pee on all yard fruit trees. European wine used to grow California meyer lemons is how I like to think of it.

                                              1. re: TonyC

                                                Average rainfall in west Marin is around 23 inches from November through May.

                                                I believe they're dependent on local rainfall / groundwater. In most of the state, we get most of our water most of the year from melting snow in the mountains. Rain falling most places in the state has little effect on our water supply.

                                            2. re: TonyC

                                              Straus is in west Marin County. An LA Times story from earlier this month said that Straus raised prices 5%. Doesn't say anything about them cutting production.


                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                right, read that. Assuming 5% to TJ is... a lot.

                                                then again, I would've paid 15-20% more at TJ to not have to schlep the glass bottles, or drive to WF.

                                                1. re: TonyC

                                                  I bet that's the understory of what TJ said to you. Stopped selling.... at the same price. Happy to sell at 5% more.

                                              2. re: TonyC

                                                Same report from the San Carlos and San Mateo TJ locations. It's back to Rainbow now, for the full gallons and the price has gone up since we last bought from $6.70 to $8.19 per gallon.