By Karen Whiting
Cream cheese is one of those simple, economical, and delightful recipes you can make at home. Whether you schmear it on a bagel, make a dip base, or bake a healthier cheesecake, home is better than store bought. Store-bought cream cheese contains unnecessary preservatives and hormones.
The simplest homemade cream cheese doesn’t require cooking, so it’s great to make with children.
Once made, you can create your own flavors by adding spices, fruits, jams, crushed nuts, or other ingredients. And it’s naturally good for you!
Homemade Cream Cheese Supplies
- Mesophilic starter culture OR yogurt
- Glass bowl
- Half and half
How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese
You’ll need some fine cheesecloth that you can purchase at a fabric or food store. Some people substitute a sterilized dishcloth or cloth diaper. You will also need a starter unless you simply use yogurt. For yogurt, skip step one.
For soft cheese, such as cream cheese, use Mesophilic starter culture that you may need to buy online. It’s important to use a glass bowl for the first step of the process. You’ll also need half and half, either raw or pasteurized.
For the second step, gather a colander, cheesecloth, and a bowl that can hold the colander and catch the liquid whey below.
Harder cheeses use citric acid and rennet starter (one tablet equals one teaspoon liquid rennet). The harder cheeses start with heating the cream on the stove. Cheesemaking takes time, so think of patience as an additional ingredient.
- For cream cheese, the first step is to allow the cream to sit and thicken to a gel stage.
- Pour one quart of half and half in a glass bowl and let it get to room temperature.
- Gently add the tiny bit of starter (one packet is only 1/8 teaspoon). If the half and half is not at room temperature, this step can take several hours longer.
- Cover the bowl loosely and let it sit eight to twelve hours until it thickens. The consistency should resemble yogurt. It works best with the room temperature at 72 degrees.
- Starting with cold half and half and a house at 68 degrees, has been known to take twenty-five hours. Use a spoon and lift up a little of the mixture to check the consistency. Once it is thickened, it needs to be strained to remove the whey.
Remove The Whey
The next step is to strain the gelled mixture. This will leave the cheese in the cheesecloth and the whey will drip into the bowl below. The longer you let the mix sit, the more liquid will drain out to make the cream cheese firmer. Eight to twelve hours is normal, with twelve hours leaving a harder cheese. The shorter drip time will produce a soft cheese that is perfect to flavor and use with chips or vegetables as a dip. The cheese will harden more once refrigerated.
Making cheese leaves lots of whey. One quart of cream produces one to two cups of cream cheese and the rest is whey. That’s quite a bit of liquid. Refrigerate the whey. Use the whey in place of other liquids in recipes. Cook oatmeal or rice in whey, and add the whey to soups or fruit smoothies.
Homemade Cream Cheese Flavors
The great thing about cream cheese is that it’s so easy to flavor to make your own favorites. Start with one cup of soft cream cheese and add your desired ingredients.
For a nutty taste, add 1/4 cup crushed nuts and 1/2 teaspoon honey.
For fruity dessert cream cheese, simply mix in a tablespoon of your favorite preserves. Or, to use fresh fruit, stir in 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh berries or other fruit. Add honey or powdered sugar to taste, about 1/2-1 teaspoon. You can also add sweetness with maple syrup.
For a more savory flavor, prepare a garlic scallion cream cheese. Use one to two tablespoons minced green scallions and a clove of minced garlic. Add a pinch of basil, oregano, or other herbs as desired.
To make harder cream cheese into a dip, stir in 1/2 cup of sour cream or a few tablespoons of milk. Then grab some crackers or cut veggies and dip away.
Once you start making your own cream cheese you’ll want to try other types, such as mozzarella and cheddar. Enjoy the fun and delicious taste of homemade cream cheese that’s healthy.
Companies that sell Mesophilic starter and other cheese making supplies:
Karen Whiting (karenwhiting.com) is the author of seventeen books including inspirational craft books for girls and Nature Girl: A Guide to Caring for God’s Creation. She also writes books for women, including Time and The 365 Most Important Bible Passages for Women. Karen grew up surrounded by family dairy farms and enjoys cooking, crafts, Pinterest, and the great outdoors.