Do the French Know the Best Secret for Cooking Dairy in the Slow Cooker?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

While classic French cuisine certainly doesn’t make use of a slow cooker, it’s no stranger to dairy. This is an ingredient the French know well; they’re masters of turning milk and cream into a whole world of rich foods. In fact, we can learn one of our most important tips about cooking dairy in the slow cooker from them.

From dips and soups, to sauces and desserts, there are a lot of slow-cooker recipes that rely on dairy products. And to be successful, it’s time we take our lead from the French. They might not share our love for the slow cooker, but they can tell us a lot about the best kind of dairy to use and when to add it to our recipes.

Full-Fat or Bust

French cuisine is known for being rich, indulgent, and sometimes a little heavy. Part of the reason behind this is the type of dairy they use in their cooking: luscious, full-fat dairy. From whole milk and heavy creams to crème fraîche and sour cream, the French use these full-fat products for the taste, but that’s not all: Full-fat dairy products hold up better in cooking than their low-fat counterparts.

The same principle applies when cooking dairy in the slow cooker. Choose dairy products with a higher fat content. The amount of fat in milk and cream has a big impact on how your slow-cooker recipe will turn out. Low-fat dairy is more likely to curdle when heated, while full-fat milk and cream retain their consistency better under the pressure of heat.

Treat Dairy Like the Cheese Course

The French love their cheese, and for good reason — go to any French restaurant and the last course of your meal, before a bite of dessert — or sometimes even in place of it — is always the cheese course. The place for cheese is at the end of the meal, and that’s just how you should think about the dairy-based ingredients when using them with a slow cooker.

It’s best to add dairy, like milk, cream, and yogurt, towards the end of cooking. Added too soon, and dairy products run the risk of curdling. So when cooking dairy in the slow cooker, think of it like the cheese course at a French restaurant — last, but never least!