How to Make Real Cream Cheese

How to Make Real Cream Cheese

There’s something uniquely special about homemade cheeses – like the making of bone broth, it’s often relatively easy but it leads to a deep feeling of accomplishment.  I made cheese!  You announce to your family.  Then you serve to friends and you can’t help but say, that cheese – I made that.

Now, I love cheese and have often wondering how to make it.  I’ve delved into home cheese making only a bit: feta, chevre from the raw goat’s milk we get each week, yogurt cheese which isn’t really much of a cheese at all.  For a long time, I’ve been wondering how to make cream cheese.  It couldn’t be much harder than a classic chevre, right?

artisan cheesemaking at homeArtisan Cheese Making at Home

In late spring of this year, I received a sweet little package from Ten Speed Press: Artisan Cheese Making at Home.  It’s a beautiful little book – one that takes you gradually from simple cheeses and cultured dairy foods like chevre, yogurt, mascarpone and mozzarella to more complex cheeses like cheddar (several versions, actually) and creme fraiche brie.

It’s a progressive book in that way – one that guides you from the fundamentals of cheesemaking through your first, simple cheeses to more complex and artisanal cheeses.  You move step-by-step and simply. The instructions for each cheese are incredibly detailed and deeply clear – leaving little room for the “guesswork” that leaves you wondering if you’re really doing things correctly, but giving you enough knowledge and confidence to step beyond the confines of a single recipe to flavor your cheeses in unique ways once you’ve mastered the technique.

It’s a lovely book, and while it’s only been in my possession a few months, it’s now worn from use and stained with dripping whey.

Pick up Artisan Cheese Making at Home on Sale

You can pick up a copy of Artisan Cheese Making at Home on Amazon for about $19 (it usually retails for $30), or check out your local independent book store.

A Note about Raw Milk

Many of the recipes in Artisan Cheese Making at Home call for raw milk or can be adapted for raw milk users, just like Karlin’s recipe for how to make cream cheese.  In our home, we use raw milk and cream exclusively, and have for more than 5 years.  Like many of you, I participate in a herd share which allows my family to purchase part of a herd of dairy cows and share the milk they produce with other herd share members.  You can learn more about this system online and look into options in your area from RealMilk.com.

Where to Buy Cheese Making Supplies

To make cream cheese at home, you’ll need supplies unique to cheese making, and as this traditional art has fallen from favor in modern kitchens, you’re unlikely to be able to purchase them locally unless you live in an area with a particularly vibrant food scene or very well-stocked health food stores.

For this reason, most home cheese makers purchase their supplies (starter cultures, lipase powders, rennet, muslins and forms) online from specialty shops (you can find them here).

Other Notes on this Recipe for Real Cream Cheese

Before you ask: real cream cheese differs from yogurt cheese (labneh) in that it makes use of both a starter culture and rennet as well as salt, which produces a mildly tart and salty cream cheese.  It also melts successfully and incorporates into sauces without breaking thanks to the use of rennet.

The original recipe in Artisan Cheese Making at Home also calls for calcium chloride – a common ingredient in many cheeses.  It aids the process of coagulation.  I had none, and omitted it in my adaptation below.

how to make cream cheese

Real Cream Cheese

How to Make Real Cream Cheese

By Jenny Published: November 8, 2012

  • Yield: 1 1/2 lbs (12 Servings)

For real cream cheese, you need little more than milk, cream, rennet, starter culture and a bit of sea salt. This recipe is generously adapted from Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses by Mary Karlin available from Ten Speed Press. You can find the cheese making supplies like mesophilic cheese starter, rennet and muslins online (see sources).

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Pour milk and cream into a large (6-qt) heavy-bottomed stock pot and warm it over low heat until it reaches 75 F - about 15 minutes, then remove it from the heat.
  2. Sprinkle starter over the warm milk and let it sit about 5 minutes to rehydrate. Stir the milk and starter together with 20 up and down strokes, then stir in the dilute rennet with 20 up and down strokes. Cover it and allow it to sit at room temperature for up to 12 hours until whey separates from the curds.
  3. Line a sieve with butter muslin, pour in the curds and whey then tie up the corners of the muslin to form a bag and hang it from an elevated hook in your kitchen (I use my pot rack or my faucet) over a basin to catch the dripping whey. Allow the curds to hang about 8 hours - discarding the whey or reserving it for another use.
  4. Transfer the strained cheese to a large bowl, beat in the salt and form into bricks or spoon into a mason jar and refrigerate. It should keep about 2 to 3 weeks.

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What people are saying

  1. Ryan says

    Calcium chloride is available at homebrew shops as a water salt, or often at stores in the pickling section as “pickle crisp”

  2. Heather says

    Thank you! I’ve been wanting to try making cream cheese, but I haven’t had any luck finding a recipe. Everyone just suggests the yogurt cheese instead, but I think they are totally different. I’m excited to try this!

  3. Becki says

    From cheesemaking.com
    It is usually not necessary (to use calcium chloride in raw milk) because the calcium molecules have not been affected by pasteurization and homogenization. However, many cheese makers use calcium chloride to compensate for seasonal variations in the composition of their milk.

    Thanks for the great recipe

  4. Annie says

    Thank you very much for posting this simple and delicious recipe. I too use a lot of raw milk and find it makes some of the most delicious things. Just leaving raw cream to sour on its own is so delightful.

    I just want to add here that some people might not know the difference between cream cheese and yogurt cheese making techniques. There is more between these two than just the addition of starter, rennet and salt. Yogurt cheese is made from drained yogurt (drained of its whey). And yogurt itself is made with milk and yogurt culture which is specific to yogurt making (there are more than one kinds of yogurt cultures). Cream cheese can be made with raw milk as you so beautifully describe here. But making yogurt with raw milk can be tricky as the natural enzymes in raw milk will compete with the yogurt cultures.

    Basically, what I’ve learned is that I can make yogurt with raw milk but I cannot use the raw milk yogurt as a starter for another batch; I must keep some of the gently pasteurized yogurt on hand for each new batch of raw milk yogurt. Even so, in my experience, my raw milk yogurt is a lot more runny than when I heat the milk first–like a thick kefir maybe.

    By gently pasteurized I mean not taking it much over 140 degrees F. and then holding it there for 30 minutes. Some people say you can do it at a lower temperature. That may be true; I haven’t tried it yet. You don’t want to kill all the good bacteria and enzymes, just the ones that will interfere with the yogurt cultures.

    I hope this helps someone

    • Maryjane says

      I make yogurt from raw milk every week. I usually use Stoneyfield Organic Whole Milk Yogurt as a starter (about 1/2 c. per gallon) and my yogurt comes out with a very nice consistency — not as thick as commercial yogurt, but definitely thicker than kefir. I usually drain it to produce a thicker, Greek-style yogurt.
      I have occasionally used my homemade yogurt as a starter for another batch, with very good success, but I do not repeat the process more than once — that is, I have not used yogurt, as a starter, that was made from a previous batch of yogurt. I have read that the naturally occurring bacteria in the raw milk will eventually overcome the yogurt cultures, as Annie said.

      • says

        I’ve been making raw milk yogurt for about 3 years. I never heat my milk above 112 (108-112) F. I always make a gallon at a time. I started with Natren brand yogurt starter. I use some yogurt from the previous batch to make more for many batches. When I see it getting weak, I’ll use a Tbs of the Natren and start over. (This is even recommended on the bottle, though they don’t have raw milk instructions and suggest heating the milk to 180F) Even when I use store bought Greek yogurt for a culture, I make many batches off each previous batch (that I made). I usually strain mine to make it more like Greek yogurt and use the whey for other things.

  5. says

    I find this so interesting. I’d been making cream cheese by just letting the curds and whey separate (using raw milk), and whipping up the curds with a little salt. (a la Sally Fallon) Is this appreciably different in taste, texture, shelf life?

  6. flo says

    my grands were here during Hurriane Sandy. My son made them chocolate milk and they were upset because they said he used water.. not a nice trick *s*. He tastes it, and it was the old milk hubby was using for cheese. We got such a good laugh out of it, and now he knows to look at dates. PS.. the cheese tastes great when homemade

  7. Marilyn says

    Raw milk is not available in Louisiana and the farmers who were trying to do cowshares have asked that their names be removed from the Realmilk website because authorities were using that list to find and harass the farmers. Authorities did the same thing for goat milk providers — I can no longer get goat milk, except from the grocery store and national brands, which of course means not-grass-fed. The heavy cream available in stores ALWAYS has carrageenan or other gums in it. But the half and half does not. Could this recipe be made using 2 quarts of half & half instead of one quart of milk and one quart of heavy cream?

    • Kelsye says

      It depends on where you live at in louisiana. There are several people who have dairy cows that give the extra milk away free and if the person feels the need to donate a small amount into the “feed” pot. Just ask around because it is available . The only reason I know is because I milked our cow for 3 years and when I married my sister started. Also you can sometimes get raw milk from a dairy you just have to ask

  8. Sara says

    This looks yummy, but the amount of rennet seems off. Usually I use about a 1/4 tsp for a batch of cheese using 1 gallon milk (not cream cheese, though) … Are you sure that is correct?

  9. Leanna says

    Gosh, you make it sound so easy. I have been missing my cream cheese since I realized I can’t eat guar gum. Thank you!

  10. Susie says

    Hi! I’m in Scotland and we can only get pasturised, homogenised milk here (even organic milk is homogenised). It’s illegal to sell raw milk. Does ultrapasturised mean ‘homogenised’? Its not a term I’m familiar with.
    Thank you!

    • Sheri says

      Nope, homogenized is a process that keeps the cream from separating from the milk (so it doesn’t float on top like it would with raw milk). Ultra-pasteurized is just taking pasteurization a step farther, so you end up with m ilk that’s actually shelf stable because there’s absolutely nothing alive in it!

  11. Svetlana says

    You can make excellent cream cheese from raw goat’s milk.
    You only need calcium chloride if your milk is pasteurized It adds back the calcium lost in pasteurization.
    The amount of water isn’t critical. It will come out in the whey.
    You can substitute cultured buttermilk for mesophilic starter.
    You can make cream cheese with half and half or light cream.

  12. Brenda says

    I was wondering if the mesophilic culture for the cream cheese could be my cultured raw buttermilk. I read somewhere online a while ago that you can use this instead of actually buying a mesophilic culture. Anyway, I’m going to try it, because I have gallons of beautiful, naturally cultured buttermilk on hand. I’m only wondering how much I should use. Sounds like more experimenting. What a pleasure to have my cow and products from my beautiful Jersey cow. It’s fun to leave the buttermilk out at room temp. and decide where I want to stop the culturing and refrigerate. Anything from skim to a thick yogurt consistency. Love it

    • says

      Brenda, I use cultured buttermilk for any cheese that calls for mesophilic starter. However, I usually use store bought as I can count on the correct culture. I too save my cultured buttermilk leftover from butter making, but I found that it was unreliable as a cheese starter – so I use if for other things. While I know it’s REAL hard to buy store bought anything dairy when you have a sweet Jersey in your back yard (in my case, 4 sweet Jerseys), but I hate to ruin a batch of cheese (which goes to the chickens, so they’re happy anyway). I buy a carton of cultured buttermilk, pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, then pop them into a freezer ziploc bag. When I’m making cheese, I drop 3 “ice cubes” of them into about 2 gallons of milk.

      • Brenda says

        Thank you for your help. Also, from reading the posts I realize that I can’t continue to use my raw milk yogurt to make new batches continuously. Will buy some buttermilk and yogurt to keep on hand to make these things.

      • cindy L. says

        wow, thanks so much for this info. The books always say use this or that but don’t give ‘natural’ alternatives. While store bought buttermilk isn’t entirely ‘natural’, it does have the exact balance of cultures. I will try this. PS you can make you own future batches of buttermilk by heating your raw milk to 160 degrees and culturing with store buttermilk. then use that till you get low and innoculate another new batch, etc. I just bought a few different mesophilic starters. some say direct set, some say you can create a starter and freeze those. I’ll try doing that so I have some variety to choose from.

  13. Karen says

    Question: Why would one not be able to make future batches of yogurt from a current batch, simply because raw milk is used? I don’t have access to raw milk so I must make mine from pasturized, homogenized milk which is as unprocessed as is legal here and cannot experiment. I am wondering what pre-commercial yogurt makers did that is different than the raw milk yogurt makers do here.

    My other question is the method for stirring in the starter with up and down strokes – presumably this would be the same action as folding in egg whites?

    • Teresa says

      I think it’s because the cultures get weak as you use them. I used to make yogurt and found that out too. You can make a few batches of yogurt and then it will not work and I had to buy yogurt to start again.

    • says

      First, thanks to Jenny and all who are making cheese and cultured dairy items from my book, Artisan Cheese Making at Home. I encourage all of you enthusiasts to visit the www for info and inspiration.
      I want to reply to Teresa’s comments about re-culturing from previous batches of yogurt or good quality store-bought.
      It is the type/strains of yogurt cultures used in making the yogurt which allow one to make multiple batches from it or not. Some cultures (direct set) only work for a few times; others for on-going.

    • says

      The technique for incorporating the culture is literally up and down; a vertical motion. It is not the same as making egg whites or the typical use of a whisk for whipping or baking. The method allows one to draw the ingredient (culture in this case) down into the milk without agitation or aeration. All you are needing to accomplish is the most efficient distribution of the ingredient into the milk.

  14. Peace says

    You can also easily make raw fermented cream cheese by leaving a jar of raw milk on the bench for a few days, till the curd and whey spearate, then strain though cheesecloth. Raw, cultured and you can use the cultured whey to activate sauerkraut, beet kvass and other fermented foods.

    • jenny says

      What you’re making is not actually cream cheese, it is strained bonny clabber. Bonny clabber is a wild fermented dairy product, while cream cheese is a cultured dairy product to which rennet has been added.

      • Sara Gordon says

        Jenny – would you say that there is a nutritional benefit to consuming the cream cheese over the bonnny clabber? I use the bonny clabber simply because it does not involve an extra work… it is a byproduct of my whey making. Thanks

  15. Allen in AK says

    In these recipes, they always say not to use Ultra pastuerized. Where I am in Alaska, thats all we can get. Am I just out of luck, or will it just not be as good of a product?

    • Danielle says

      Allen what part of Alaska are you in? I live in Fairbanks and we get our milk (and eggs!) from a family in Nenana. I know Anchorage and the Valley have lots of options for herd shares as well, you just have to ask around. Isn’t there a year round farmers market down there now? They would probably know where to start. I’ve found that raw goat’s milk is easier to find than cow’s. In the Interior, HomeGrown Market is the best place to connect with other real food enthusiasts. The Alaska Raw Milk Aliance at https://www.facebook.com/alaska.arm may also be able to help you locate a herd share in your area.

  16. says

    “1.Pour milk and cream into a large (6-qt) heavy-bottomed stock pot and warm it over low heat until it reaches 75 F – about 15 minutes, then remove it from the heat”

    Now is that about 15 minutes until it is 75 F or do I keep it at 75 F for about 15 minutes?

    Also I cannot get liquid rennett where I live but I can get the tablet form, how much tablet’s would put in?

    Thanks

  17. Miranda says

    Does anyone know if you can freeze this cream cheese and have it thaw out favorably? My family is small so we probably wouldn’t be able to eat this much cream cheese in 3 weeks. Thoughts? =)

  18. Layale says

    I can’t get heavy cream that isn’t ultra-pasteurized. Wish I could. I would love to make real cream cheese.

  19. Pat says

    I tried this using raw milk and ultra-pasteurized heavy cream. After sitting for 12 hours, I have maybe 2 tablespoons of solids. Is this because of the ultra-pasteurized cream?

    • Jenny says

      Then you can’t make this cream cheese. You really need to have the right ingredients in order to make it, but I’m sure there’s many many other things you can make though. You might try yogurt cheese instead.

  20. Monique says

    Can you use the cream cheese whey the same way you use the whey from yoghurt? And how about the kefir whey ….. can you use it?
    Regards

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