Homemade Cream Cheese without a Starter Culture

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Maybe it’s a clever marketing ploy but there is something about a bagel without cream cheese that just seems lonely and sad. Thus, when the family and I discussed making bagels for breakfast a few weeks ago the conversation naturally turned to needing cream cheese to go with said bagels.

We could have gone the store bought route as we have done countless times in the past. But that just didn’t seem to jive with our new found self-sufficiency mojo. Naturally, we set out to make our own cream cheese. In a lot of ways, I truly consider fresh cream cheese to be my “gateway drug” into cheese making and plan to make much more of our own cheese in the future.

This cream cheese recipe is the perfect starter recipe for anyone who’s ever thought about making their own cheese. It requires no special equipment, starter cultures or complicated ingredients. In fact, the only difficult thing about making this recipe is trying to plan it around your schedule because it takes about 5 days to make fresh cream cheese.

When writing the final recipe below, I tried to include the ideal times of day to do each step so it won’t drastically interfere with your daily routine. This is key because trust me, the last thing you want to do is be up at 3am to deal with an unruly cheese culture. This recipe is pretty straightforward and the only potentially unusual tool you will require is some cheese cloth. The basic loosely woven grocery store variety will do just fine for this recipe.

This was actually one of my insane foodie projects where I felt bigger was not better. While that type of logic may work for more shelf-stable products like sea salt and savory lard it just didn’t seem like a good idea to keep an intense of dairy products on hand. Thus, I cut the original recipe in half. However, if you are making cream cheese for baking or to feed a crowd this recipe can easily be doubled to make about a pound (or the equivalent of two 8 oz. packages of store bought cream cheese).

The final verdict after making this recipe? It tastes remarkably fresher than the stuff you can buy in the store. However, it really only stands out when the homemade cream cheese is one of the main events. When we used some to make cream cheese frosting we really couldn’t notice a difference in taste. And will we make it again? ABSOLUTELY!

Active Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Prep Time: 5 Days
Yield: 1/2 pound (8 ounces) of cream cheese
Recipe inspired by: Lonely homemade bagels yearning for a fatty, yet tasty companion.

Ingredients:

2 cups (475 ml) non-ultra pasteurized half and half
1/2 cup (117.5 ml) non-ultra pasteurized whipping cream
1 tablespoon (14 ml) buttermilk
Salt to taste
Herbs (optional)

Recipe for making your own Cream Cheese:


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Making Cream Cheese. Day 1: 6:00-8:00pm. In a small saucepan, heat creams to 90° F (32° C). Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk and pour the mixture into a sanitized mixing bowl, preferably glass or nonreactive metal.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Snuggly wrap a few kitchen towels around the bowl and place the bowl in a warm area. Let the bowl sit for twenty-four hours. After 24 hours, the cream mixture should have the consistency of a firm yogurt. It should not move when the bowl is tilted to the side. If the mixture still has some movement (like in the middle picture above), the culture needs more time to develop. Let it sit for another 6-12 hours (or overnight if it’s too late).

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Cream Cheese – Day 2: 6:00-8:00pm. Once you have a firm mixture, pour it into a cheese cloth-lined colander with a catch bowl underneath to catch the whey as it separates from the mixture. Allow it to drain for 15 minutes, then fold the cheese cloth over the cheese. Drain the whey out of the catch bowl and place the colander back over the bowl. Cover it with plastic and place it in the refrigerator for 12-14 hours.

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Cream Cheese – Day 3: 6:00-8:00am. Remove the curd from the refrigerator and pour it into a medium mixing bowl. The cream cheese should be much firmer than the last time you saw it. Stir in salt to taste and add the herbs if you are making spiced cream cheese.

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Line your colander with fresh cheese cloth. Pour the curd back into the colander. Wrap the colander with plastic wrap and place it back over your catch bowl. Place the cheese back in the refrigerator and let it sit for 36-48 hours, depending on the firmness you desire from your cream cheese.

Day 5 – 6:00-8:00pm (+/- 12 hours depending on firmness). Place the finished cream cheese in a plastic or glass container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Related posts from around the web.

How to Make Cream Cheese at Home (She Simmers – Thai Food, Et Cetera)

Make Your Own Yogurt and Cream Cheese (Heavenly Homemakers)

Homemade Cream Cheese So Easy a Child Could Make It (Chickens in the Road)

32 thoughts on “Homemade Cream Cheese without a Starter Culture

  1. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles.

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  2. Absolutely gorgeous recipe! I made this with homemade cream and homemade buttermilk derived from the fresh milk of my very own buffaloes! This cream cheese is the very best and thanks for the great recipe!

  3. Pingback: Recipes and food posts to bookmark; October 6th list | Paloma Cruz

    • You could try using a lighter or thinner hand towel. We have some pretty thin kitchen towels that I’ve used instead of cheese cloth in the past and it turned out ok. The key thing is to let the whey drain off your cream cheese without letting the curds fall through.

    • Hmm…I’m not sure if there are other substitutes. You could always try the trick of adding lemon juice or vinegar to a glass of milk and see if that works. I haven’t tried it but I’ve tried it for other baking projects with good results.

      If you do this, just mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar into a cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes before using it.

      Good luck!

    • because of the cultures in buttermilk, that substitute will not work. if you have access to heavy whipping cream, whip it until it turns into butter and the clear yellowish liquid that remains is buttermilk.

  4. Pingback: Make Your Own Cream Cheese | Lifehacker Australia

  5. We are from Pune and do prepare butter from milk in a traditional Indian way.First converting the raw milk into curd and then preparing butter from it. The biproduct is butter milk. My query is can we prepare Cheese from this butter milk only ? ( without using milk )
    Thanks in advance

  6. I am from a very remote place in India so some of the things sound very Utopian for me ,sorry for being so naive.

    What is non-ultra pasteurized half and half? and for me cream means the packet ed fresh cream we get here which is low fat cream having 25% milk fat .Is it possible to whip that to whipping cream?

    • Some companies ultra-pasteurize their milk to make it last longer in the refrigerator. Basically, it is milk that’s been pressure cooked at a really high temperature to kill bacteria in the milk.

      If you’re using milk in rural India, chances are you don’t have to worry about using ultra-pasteurized milk.

      I bet the 25% milk fat cream you have available will work for whipping cream. Whipping cream in the US usually starts at 30% milk fat but the 25% might work. It just might be a little softer whipped cream than using milk with a higher fat percentage.

    • I think you should do a sreies where you make a main meal one night that can then ‘morph’ into another dish just by adding a few more ingredients. I also think it’d be cool to have an ‘around the world’ sreies where you do a native meal from several different countries. Yum yum! Come have dinner with Stephen and I soon!

  7. It’s day two, and it looks like it’s working! My house is pretty cold this time of year, so I have been placing my jar into a pot half full of warm water, and after about 36 hours, it’s just about ready to be strained. I’m glad to be able to make cream cheese without adding a starter culture, and I can’t wait to taste the final product. Thanks for the recipe.

    • That’s great! It doesn’t look like much at the beginning but it is really exciting when you see it start to come together. I was surprised just how easy this recipe is. Hope you’ve got something tasty lined up to enjoy with your freshly made cream cheese!

  8. I’ve tried this out with just fresh cream and lemon juice. I just reached the part where you add salt and spices. Will I end up with cream cheese? Because it tastes an awful lot like butter. AND it’s yellowish.

    • Hi Ethan,

      That’s an interesting approach. I’ve never tried using just cream and lemon juice to make cream cheese. But I’ve seen it done elsewhere on the web. This cream cheese recipe didn’t look or taste like much until the very end of the fermentation process. I’d give it a little more time to see how it turns out. Who knows, you might end up with something between butter and cream cheese!

    • The cream cheese produced about 1 to 1.5 cups of whey. Good luck with the ricotta! That sounds like fun.

  9. I have attempted to make my own cream cheese in the past by simply straining yogurt and I find that it actually works better as a sour cream substitute. I have never tried straining it for several days as these instructions indicate so I am going to give it a try. One big difference for me, though, is that I don’t have access to buttermilk, whipping cream or half and half. I only have powdered milk and make yogurt from that. Perhaps that is why my attempts at cream cheese taste sour like sour cream? Any comments or help in this area would be great as I am living overseas and cream cheese on bagels would be a reminder of home!

    • Yeah, I was amazed just how easy it was and the final cream cheese made it well worth the wait!

  10. One more great recipe that I have to try. I’ve been making farmers chease for a while now, and just bought buttermilk to make a new batch. I will try this one as well. Thanks for this recipe and the inspiration!

    • That’s funny…I started making cream cheese and mozzarella and am just now heading toward making farmers cheese.

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