On your journey toward becoming a cheesemaker, homemade cream cheese is definitely a recipe to try. The good news is cream cheese is easy, takes very little active time, has a high yield, and is amazingly delicious!
Whether you love cream cheese for homemade cheesecake, spread on bagels, crackers, or toast, for cream cheese frosting, whatever your favorite way to enjoy cream cheese, it is so much better and satisfying when you make it yourself!
But before we dive into the recipe, I’m going to break out my inner Curd Nerd… Did you know there are three different ways you can coagulate milk to make cheese?
- Direct Acid Coagulation
- Lactic Acid Coagulation
- Rennet Coagulation
We’ve already covered Direct Acid Coagulation in making homemade ricotta. It’s probably the easiest & quickest way to turn milk into cheese. More or less, all other direct acid cheese recipes are a variation on that theme. Once you’ve mastered ricotta, you’ll have the confidence to tackle other direct acid cheeses.
Likewise, for today’s method, Lactic Acid Coagulation, all other cheeses that use this method are made similarly to cream cheese in their basic procedure. Cheeses made this way do take longer and have an extra step or three, but they’re still quite simple.
What is Lactic Acid Coagulation?
In the most basic terms, lactic acid coagulation is basically allowing time and bacteria from your culture to work their magic by converting lactose into lactic acid which curdles the milk. It’s very similar to making homemade yogurt.
Other lactic acid cheeses include Chèvre, Cottage Cheese, Fromage Blanc, and Quark.
Homemade Cream Cheese
If you’ve made Greek yogurt, you can make homemade cream cheese. How’s that for a confidence boost?
Just like in yogurt making, you heat the milk, add an appropriate culture, set it aside and allow it to coagulate. Once that’s done, simply strain out the whey until it’s thick.
Ingredients to Make Cream Cheese
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1/8th teaspoon Aroma B culture (or Flora Danica)
- 4-8 drops liquid rennet, optional
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Can You Make Cheese Without Cultures?
A primary difference between yogurt and cream cheese is that yogurt uses a thermophilic culture because of the higher temperature during incubation. Cream cheese uses an aromatic mesophilic culture. Mesophilic cultures are used for cheeses that work best if they are warmed at a lower temperature, no more than 102F.
You may be wondering if you can make cream cheese without a culture?
Technically, all cheeses can be made without a culture, however cultures are extremely important for influencing the flavor of your cheese. When you use a culture you are telling your milk which bacteria you want working so you get the final product you expect. Without a culture, any microorganism can get take over and you can’t be sure your cheese will be edible, let alone taste the same from one batch to the next. You might go through all of that time and expense and end up with something that looks like cream cheese, but definitely doesn’t taste like it.
Do You Need Rennet to Make Cream Cheese?
The good news is you do not need rennet to make homemade cream cheese!
But you should bear in mind that, like yogurt, the longer you let cream cheese sit during incubation, the tangier it gets. For this reason, I’ll also be giving you optional instructions for adding a few drops of rennet to speed the coagulation process along. This it totally optional! You can make homemade cream cheese without rennet if you’d like.
Adding a couple drops of rennet does cut the culturing time in half and is more appropriate if you’ll be using the cream cheese a dessert recipe because it ends up with a more mild, aromatic flavor. Just bear that in mind and make sure to check for coagulation sooner than without rennet.
How to Make Cream Cheese
Begin by warming your milk and cream in a clean and sanitized pot to 86F. Once you have reached the correct temperature, sprinkle the culture over the surface of the milk and allow a minute for it to rehydrate. Thoroughly stir the culture in for two minutes.
If you choose to use a few drops of rennet add it now and gently stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and set it aside where it can sit, completely undisturbed, for the next 12-24 hours if using rennet, 24-48 hours if no rennet was used.
The curds are ready when you see droplets of whey begin to form on the surface and the curd mass starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Check for a clean break by slipping a knife just into the top of the curd mass and lifting it up.
Now to drain the whey from your curds. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer large slices of the curd to a cheesecloth-lined colander that is sitting in a large bowl to collect the whey as it drains out. Allow the whey to drain out for 1-2 hours before tying up the corners of the cheesecloth and hanging it in a warm area for 12-24 hours.
You will want to scrape the sides of the cheesecloth every 4 hours or so because the cheese will start to get thick on the outside and not allow the center to drain.
How long you allow the cheese to drain entirely depends on what consistency you prefer. Just remember that the longer you allow the cheese to drain, the more sugars the culture will “eat” and the tangier your final cheese will become.
At the last scraping of the sides, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt for flavor and to release any extra whey. If the cheese has drier chunks in it simply mix them back in. You can hand beat it, use a stand mixer, or immersion blender. Store cream cheese in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Homemade Cream Cheese Recipe
- 2 gallon pot with lid
- Butter Muslin
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon Aroma B culture, or Flora Danica
- 4-8 drops liquid animal rennet, optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Warm your milk and cream to 86F.
- Sprinkle the culture over the surface of the milk and allow a minute for it to rehydrate.
- Thoroughly stir the culture in for two minutes.
- Add the rennet, if you’ll be using it, and gently stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds.
- Cover the pot and set it aside where it can sit completely undisturbed for the next 12-24 hours if using rennet, 24-48 hours if no rennet was used.
- The curds are ready when you see droplets of whey begin to form on the surface and the curd mass starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Check for a clean break by slipping a knife just into the top of the curd mass and lifting it up.
- Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer large slices of the curd to a cheesecloth-lined colander that is sitting in a large bowl.
- Allow the whey to drain out for 1-2 hours.
- Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and hang it in a warm area for 12-24 hours.
- Scrape the sides of the cheesecloth every 4 hours until you get the desired texture.
- At the last scraping of the sides, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt for flavor and to release any extra whey.
In our next cheesemaking article, you will learn how to make an easy rennet coagulated cheese. It is a mild & delicious semi-firm cheese called Butterkaese or Butter Cheese. It’s perfect for snacking and makes a killer grilled cheese sandwich.
And in our final cheesemaking post in this series, we will tackle the cheddaring process & how to age cheese!
But my cow won’t be freshening until early March so you’ll have to wait until then before we can pick back up.
Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 15 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. She is the co-founder of the SmartSteader homestead management app and Executive Assistant for Homesteaders of America.
Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens.