Recipes

homemade cream cheese

A few years ago, I figured out how to make cream cheese and didn’t quite know what to do with this information. What kind of crazy person makes their own cream cheese, no matter how delicious it is? Then again, you could use that reasoning to reject almost anything here (looking in particular at you, marshmallows) and you’re still here. But I suspected this would be a bridge too far. Even food blogging grandmothers have to stay relevant and who has looked around [gestures to all of these things in this world right now] and said “What really keeps me up at night is the stabilizers in store-bought cream cheese”?


what you'll need for homemade cream cheesecream for cream cheesesaltheat the milk, cream, and saltdrainbefore you blend itso creamyvegetable cream cheese

And then the pandemic happened, many of us had more free time than we knew what to do with, the grocery stores didn’t always have what they used to, and when they did, the prices were whack (whoops, so much for “relevance”) and I made it again and what I forgot to tell you, what I should have led with, is that it’s unbelievably easy. I made this in 25 minutes. The only hands-on portion was scraping the cream cheese out of the food processor, and in the case of veggie cream cheese, mincing some vegetables. It requires no fancy ingredients, just regular whole milk, heavy cream, salt, and white vinegar. And it tastes fantastic. Each time I’ve made it, we’ve been kind of shocked at what a match it is for store-bought cream cheese; I’m not sure I could tell them apart with my eyes closed. And in the case of the flavored cream cheeses, so much better. Come on; you should try it at least once.

plain homemade cream cheese

Previously

6 months ago: Carrot and White Bean Burgers
1 year ago: Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan
2 year ago: Flapjacks
3 years ago: Tomato Bread + A Bit About Spain
4 years ago: How to Julienne and Plum Squares with Marzipan Crumble
5 years ago: Caponata and Zucchini Rice and Cheese Gratin
6 years ago: Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut Milk and Herbed Tomato and Roasted Garlic Tart
7 years ago: Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
8 years ago: Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella and Fig Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah
9 years ago: Peach Butter, Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes and Mint, and Red Wine Chocolate Cake
10 years ago: Grape Foccaccia with Rosemary and Linguine with Tomato-Almond Pesto
11 years ago: Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies
12 years ago: Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee, Bourbon Peach Hand Pies and Raspberry Breakfast Bars and Braised Romano Beans
13 years ago: Hoisin Barbecue Sauce and Lemon Layer Cake
14 years ago: Silky Cauliflower Soup and Summer Squash Soup

Homemade Cream Cheese

  • Servings: 1 cup
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

If you’ve ever made homemade ricotta, farmers cheese, paneer, or other fresh cheese, this process will be familiar. The primary difference with cream cheese is the addition of cream (I use it in my ricotta, but it’s not traditional), the higher level of salt (trust me, it does not taste like cream cheese without this level of salt), and the blending process. This recipe only makes 1 cup; I recommend doubling (using a 1/2 gallon of milk) or quadrupling (with a full gallon of milk) it if you’re serving more than a couple people.

  • 4 cups (945 ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons (11 grams) fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) white vinegar

    Line a fine-mesh or other tiny-holed strainer with a layer or two of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl with enough clearance that the bottom of the strainer won’t touch the bowl once it has 4 cups of liquid in it, or the cheese won’t drain. In a heavy medium-large saucepan, heat the milk, cream, and salt over medium-high heat until just below a simmer — it will look like it’s foaming and register about 200 to 205 degrees F. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar and wait 4 minutes, then pour it through the cheesecloth. Drain for 10 to 20 minutes; it will still look pretty wet but will barely be dripping from the strainer. The amount of time it takes to drain has to do with the size of your cheesecloth holes. Don’t worry if it drains too much, however; you can always add back some whey if it’s not the right consistency. Transfer the contents of the cheesecloth to a food processor or blender and blend until very smooth, a few minutes, scraping down as needed. That’s it — you made cream cheese!

    The cream cheese will still be warm, so the texture should remind you of cream cheese that’s been softened on a toasted bagel. If it seems stiffer, you can add some whey back, 1 teaspoon at a time, blending it in. As the cream cheese cools, it will firm up, but you can use it right away. Save the whey for other good things, like a soup stock or as the water in a bread recipe.

  • To make vegetable cream cheese: Add 2 tablespoons minced carrot, 2 tablespoons minced scallion, white and green parts, 2 tablespoons minced red pepper, blotted with a paper towel to remove excess liquid, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, and a couple grinds of black pepper per 1 cup of plain cream cheese.
  • To make scallion-chive cream cheese: Add 4 tablespoons finely chopped scallions and/or chives per 1 cup plain cream cheese.
  • To make lox cream cheese: Add 4 tablespoons finely chopped lox, 1 tablespoon minced chives, and minced fresh dill, to taste, to 1 cup plain cream cheese.
  • To make strawberry cream cheese, my favorite non-canon flavor of cream cheese because it tastes like cheesecake and I don’t care how much it makes Real New Yorkers that are not me clutch their pearls: Add 2 tablespoons strawberry jam, drained off a little if it’s a looser jam, per 1 cup plain cream cheese.
  • Do ahead: This fresh cream cheese, as per generally accepted food safety advice, should keep for 1 week in the fridge, but I can also tell you that my plain cream cheese was perfectly fine at the 2-week mark. I would plan to keep the lox cream cheese for only a few days, however.

    Ingredient notes: You can use any milk you like to drink but you want to use a full-fat milk. A lower-fat milk will not have the same yield. For the cream, pasteurized is fine but ultra-pasteurized often has gellan gum in it for stability and I would avoid this. [I used Organic Valley for both my milk and heavy cream because they’re pretty accessible, not because this is sponsored.] This is my go-to fine sea salt brand. White vinegar is usually sold as plain vinegar in the UK. I’ve just started using this machine-washable brand of cheesecloth.

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206 comments on homemade cream cheese

      1. deb

        It’s less acidic and has a less neutral flavor. If you you find that the mixture doesn’t clump, you’ll want to put it back on the stove with more vinegar.

      2. Gg kim

        yes! Just as,delicious..I would strain overnight over the cool kitchen sink , covered with a muslin cloth ….magic..delicious soft cheese for breakfast! xoxoxo

  1. Rachel

    Ok, so I am a person who is kept up at night by the added stabilizers in cream cheese. Nerds unite! I’m so looking forward to trying this recipe. Do you think this cream cheese could be used in cheesecake?

    1. Deanna

      I’m kept up by the stabilizers in sour cream (for being a dairy country, NZ has terrible sour cream), but I’d never really thought about the ones in cream cheese. Now it’ll keep me up at night too.

      I’d be wary of using this in cheesecake…anytime I make cheesecake and use a brand other than Philadelphia or Trader Joe’s it’s a gamble as to whether or not it’ll work. (England and NZ have both had failures because the texture of the cream cheese just wasn’t right. And as much as I love cream cheese, I don’t want it as a hot, sweet soup)

      1. Saba

        Meadowfresh cream cheese works in cheesecakes too (just never try with the spreadable version), but philadelphia is definitely a superior product. Most of our butter in nz is also pretty terrible 😢

        1. Karen Brown

          You’re joking! I would put Lewis Road unsalted butter (a premium high butterfat butter made in New Zealand) up against some of the best French products. I worked as a pastry chef for many years, and am really fussy about butter in baked goods. And if I’m in the mood, I make butter in my stand mixer with our lovely fresh cream. But even NZ’s cheaper everyday butters are better than the standard butters in Britain or theUS, to my palate at least.

      2. Sherri

        I am going make this right after the 3yo goes to sleep, whenever that is.

        My Covidtide cheesecloth revelation came when I made Instant Pot yogurt but did not dare leave the house: IKEA dish towels, the $0.79 white ones with red stripes, work perfectly. I always have a ton of them and I can just throw them in the wash. Yay.

        1. Sonnie

          I have numerous all-white dish towels that are too worn out to be absorbent. But, cheapskate that I am, I save them. They work perfectly in place of commercial cheesecloth.

      3. Carla

        Deanna…make your own probiotic rich sour cream…get some kefir grains and feed them cream…in less than 24 hours you have the most luxurious sour cream…and very happy grains. I use a heaping tablespoon for 2 cups of cream. Just strain out the grains and you are good to go. Then give the grains a couple of cups of milk..any kind and the next day you’ll have kefir.

        BTW..making your own kefir, kefir cheese and kefir sour cream will save you over $600 per year!!! And, it’s easy! Enjoy.

              1. Dee

                I just brought lactose free cream cheese . This might be region specific but Loblaws ( grocery store chain) has their store brand cream cheese which is lactose free. Canadian of course.

            1. Leah

              I think it will work. The vinegar curdles the milk proteins not the lactose. Lactose-free milk may not work in homemade yogurt, though, because the lactose has to be converted to lactic acid to acidify the milk.

              1. Nadia

                Lactose-free milk does work in homemade yogurt. I make it all the time because it’s so hard to find lactose-free yogurt (and really expensive when you do find it).

          1. Jacqueline

            It might be worth a try with soy milk. I make a ricotta-like cheese with soy milk curdled with lemon or vinegar. I use Westsoy or Eden brand bc they contain just soybeans and salt. I imagine the stabilizers in many plant based milks would prevent curdling.

      4. Ruth

        Rose Levy Beranbaum always tells you to use Philadelphia cream cheese in her (or any) cheesecake recipe. She says the recipes are designed to be made with stabilizer containing cheese and won’t set up with the ‘natural’ kind. I buy Ben’s for eating, but follow her advice for cheesecake.

        And I can’t wait to try this.

    2. Kel

      Hey Rachel, one option for cheesecake if you don’t have cream cheese available is Greek yogurt (homemade or unflavored store-bought). Strain it through cheesecloth over a bowl for ~24-48 hrs and it’ll be the same consistency as cream cheese. I’ve used it in cheesecake and it’s quite good.

    3. Eleanore

      Hi Rachel, all the cream cheese we get here in Israel is natural, unstabilized–which is great and delicious as a spread, but works very differently in baked goods. I’ve made cheesecakes from North American recipes using it, and they bake up very differently. They are wetter (the crust gets soggy) and not as dense and creamy. That said, if you really want to avoid cream cheese with stabilizers, you CAN make cheesecake with natural cream cheese. For best results, you could search out European-style recipes that aren’t based on Philadelphia. Israeli recipes, for example, often use flour or beaten eggwhites, which make a very different cheesecake, but still good. And I know there are many European recipes along the lines of quark pie, cheese tarts, etc. Or be ready to play around with your regular recipes until you’re happy. One idea I’ve considered is to bake a crustless cheesecake using the natural cream cheese and invert it onto a pre-baked crust, to avoid the wetness problem. And I find the natural-style cheesecakes benefit from a fruit sauce/topping as the cheesecake itself isn’t that dense, creamy cake that stands alone. Best of luck with your cream cheese adventures! (And if you try it and it actually does work like Philadelphia, please report what you did!)

    4. myrna1

      I love the worry over added stabilizers especially since my first glance at the top photo made me think “oh are those sprinkles on cream cheese” I would so eat that! This is going into the to try list. !

      1. Jackie

        I just saw this comment. Maybe I should just try it. I am recently retired, why not? I will let you know when I get around to trying it.

    1. Linda

      It is the casein in the cheese that is holding the cheese together. The Lactose is really only important when you want to ferment the cheese. Since this is a fresh cheese, lacotse free milk would certainly work. Which is also why the ricotta works too because it is also a fresh cheese :)

    2. EllaFm

      I haven’t used lactose free milk (or lactose free cream) for cream cheese, but I’ve used them for marscarpone and ricotta with fabulous results. Since the method is similar (heated milk & vinegar that is strained after curdling), I imagine it will work for cream cheese too.

      Also, this stuff is fabulous. It turns any liquid dairy into something lactose free (milk, condensed milk, cream). https://www.amazon.com/Supplement-Certified-Formulated-Seeking-Health/dp/B003VSTRY8

      1. Alene

        Actually, I forgot all about that! I made ricotta cheese for a recipe and I used lactose free milk. It worked perfectly, and I could eat it without taking a lactose pill. So cream cheese would probably work that way too. Answered my own question! Duh!

      2. Lori

        I didn’t know those type of drops existed! This is a game changer. Regular milk is so much less expensive than the Lactose free milk (here in Canada at least) which puts me off trying many milk based fun kitchen experiments for fear of wasting that expensive purchase!

  2. barb

    looks fantastic! but…for those of us that have to be more mindful of certain fats in our diet for cardiac reasons…..any way you could suggest a lower fat recipe that would be successful? when I by cream cheese here in Toronto it’s reduced to 15% milk fat. any ideas?

    1. deb

      If it’s more low-fat that this, it probably has “other” ingredients in it to make it work. If you compare labels on full-fat and low-fat cream cheese versions, even from the same brand, you’ll see a lot of extra ingredients in the the low-fat, gums, etc.

      1. Lara

        not necessarily – Arla’s Buko brand (not sure if it’s available in the US) has 16% fat content cream cheese without any artificial stuff in it. They apparently use buttermilk and cream to make their cream cheese. Heavy cream is hard to get in Germany for example, I would definitely give it a try with at least lower fat cream. Lara.

    2. Jen

      Barb – look for labneh in your local supermarket or Middle Eastern grocery store in Toronto. It’s likely to be in the same location as the ricotta and mascarpone, not with the cream cheese. Labneh is sort of like salted, extra thick Greek yogurt and the commercial brands are about 10% MF. It’s a little tangier and looser than cream cheese (sort of a whipped texture), but I actually prefer it. If I remember rightly, it’s just 3 ingredients: milk, salt, acidity regulator. Cedar and Phoenicia are the most common brands in Toronto.

      1. barb

        thanks Jen and Deb – I often buy Western or MC Dairy but was intrigued to try and make my own! Thanks for the tips about Labneh – I often make yogurt cheese from Greek or Icelandic yoghurt but don’t add any salt. Cheers

  3. Sherra

    *This* is the recipe I’ve been waiting for!! Since making your ricotta I never use store-bought anymore, as the difference is so dramatic. I just knew there had to be a way to make cream cheese as well! You’re a star.

  4. Joelle

    My new fav bagel place (Holey Rollers) out here on the west coast does great flavors of cream cheese. Might I recommend:

    – cucumber garlic dill
    – pickled onion and caper
    – Calabrian chili

  5. jessica

    omg i am 1000% making fresh cream cheese for yom kippur break fast! this looks amazing 😋

    question tho – on what do you eat the strawberry cream cheese? bagels? or just a spoon?

    1. jane

      Spread cream cheese thickly on a split croissant, sprinkle with a little BROWN sugar not regular, add sliced strawberries and broil til the brown sugar melts a little and the croissant is just toasted. This was my go-to brunch item high school and it is still delicious.

  6. Justin Tang

    Every time I see “heat xxx to yyyF degrees” I wonder….. can I use a sous vide circulator to heat that liquid instead of using the stove?

      1. Justin

        Oh, I meant to say, place the milk, cream, and salt mixture in a bag or jar, then sous vide. Heavens, I would never stick my circulator into anything other than water!

    1. Alison

      Using a SV to heat a container of milk for cheese making is so easy and works well. Many home cheese makers buy one just for that purpose (especially when you want to make a cheese that has to be held at a specific temp for a period of time).

  7. Donna

    Hi Deb,
    I definitely will try this. Especially, since I have made ricotta before.
    Right now, I “cheat” and buy store cream cheese (Philly) and make my own vegetable cream cheese out of it, which my family prefers over the one from the bagel store.
    I skip the red peppers because for us is dominates the flavor too much. What I use instead for the pop of red color AND zip of taste is a couple of radishes minced up. Thanks for this recipe – can’t wait to try it!

  8. Bev

    I’ve been buying pineapple Philadelphia Cream Cheese in the little tubs for years. It’s a favorite lunch on a Ritz cracker with a slice of pepperoni or a bit of ham. Now though, it’s not always in stock. Perhaps I’ll try to make my own.

  9. EllaFm

    I haven’t used lactose free milk (or lactose free cream) for cream cheese, but I’ve used them for marscarpone and ricotta with fabulous results. Since the method is similar (heated milk & vinegar that is strained after curdling), I imagine it will work for cream cheese too.

    Also, this stuff is fabulous. It turns any liquid dairy into something lactose free (milk, condensed milk, cream). https://www.amazon.com/Supplement-Certified-Formulated-Seeking-Health/dp/B003VSTRY8

  10. Kate

    I don’t have a candy thermometer (which is what I assume you use?). Only a meat thermometer. Can I make this without it? Eyeball the heating milk for foaming?

    1. deb

      You don’t need a thermometer. I just put that reference in for people who want to check. Just follow the description — just below simmering, getting foamy.

  11. This looks amazingly easy with a great result. I made soft cheese quite a few years ago and must get back to it. The beauty of this cream cheese is that no culture is required. Great post, thankyou.

  12. Kayleigh Hodes

    So when I made at-home bagels I also tried to make more NYC deli-like cream cheese, and could not really find much guidance on the matter on the internet. How does this compare to that v. grocery store Philadelphia?

    1. deb

      The plain is, to us, a match for Philadelphia plain, but just a little better. The flavored cream cheeses are better than the best bagel shop’s — especially the veg, IMHO.

  13. JP

    The DIY basic ingredient recipe like this cream cheese is what I look for all of the time. I really appreciate your professional take on it and I would love to try it. I have made my own cottage cheese/pot cheese before and it is very tasty. The only problem is how much milk it takes to make such a small amount of cheese. Now I know why cheese costs so much! Still, a great alternative if you are worried about certain ingredients you would rather not eat or just don’t want to go to the store, again! Thank you, Deb!

  14. Sarah

    Me, me, me! I am bothered by the stabilizers in cream cheese!! This is awesome. I have been making homemade veggie cream cheese (but with store bought cream cheese) for a while now. I like to put it in ziploc bags, make a grid on the bag with the full side of a knife, freeze it, and then break off squares and thaw them as I need them. I can’t wait to try this recipe and see if it freezes well! I am so so excited over here! Thank you!

  15. Sally Trefftzs

    An even easier method is to take ordinary sour cream–maybe coming up on its expiration date?–and put in in a strainer lined with cheese cloth to drain off the whey. You can stop the process when it’s firm enough to suit you and add salt to taste.

  16. RCH

    Where I live, we make cream cheese all the time by stirring a bit of salt into sour cream and straining through cheesecloth (OK, where I live everyone uses cloth diapers) overnight. Comes perfect and makes great cheesecake too!

  17. Andrea

    We use a lot of cream cheese and the additives do make me wary so thanks for posting!

    Is heavy cream similar to whipping cream in Canada? What is the MF%? I can get what is called a heavy cream (52% MF, amazing in your Irish Cream recipe!) or else 34-36% MF whipping cream. And our whole milk is 3.25%, will that work?

    Your site is my go-to so thankyou thankyou thankyou for keeping my family connected and well-fed over delicious meals.

    1. deb

      Heavy cream is similar to whipping cream but cartons sold as whipping cream are more likely to have stabilizers in them. It might work fine, but look for the one with the fewest “extra” ingredients.

    2. Ruth

      52% MF, I am so jealous. Our heavy/whipping cream is 36-40%. Not that it lists the MF on the label. And it’s getting harder to find cream that isn’t ultra-pasteurized. Which I wouldn’t want to use for this.

  18. Lisa Shimada

    Can you use half-and-half and add water as sub for whole milk …or whole cream only and add the same amount of water as sub for whole milk — for those who are either lactose intolerant or want to keep their carb count (from the whole milk) down?

    1. deb

      It doesn’t have a vinegar flavor; the vinegar just creates the curds. I do find that with lemon juice, however, it’s more perfumed, and you’ll have slightly lemony cream cheese. Lemon juice also has a less consistent activity. If you you find that the mixture doesn’t clump, you’ll want to put it back on the stove with more lemon.

  19. Melinda

    Hello Deb, I have been following you for years but don’t think I have ever commented. I have had such problems with the cream cheese here (UK) being too runny. I have had batch after batch of soupy cream cheese frosting, and many British friends asking me what they are doing wrong. It isn’t their fault. It is the type of cream cheese on sale here. I have used a technique for straining the cream cheese and only mixing gently. It is a rather fickle technique. Making my own cream cheese sounds like I might be able to get the cream cheese a lot more condensed texture needed for frosting. The problem is that Philadelphia brand stop selling the bricks of cream cheese and only marketing the spreadable ‘soft’ cream cheese. I am going to try this homemade version and let you know how I get on. You might have solved this annoying problem for me! Many thanks for this helpful post.

    1. Mellissa

      Melinda, I moved to the UK a few years ago and have had this same problem with soupy cream cheese frosting using the Philadelphia tubs. Please let us know how you get on with Deb’s homemade version. Thank you in advance!

      1. Melinda

        Melissa, I have even written twice to Philadelphia HQ and told them the problem when using the soft cream cheese for frosting. They responded but felt there was not a problem. Because I am American, everyone asks me this same question about why their cream cheese is so soupy. Have tried adding Guar and Xanthan gum ( not together but on separate occasions) and it makes it thicker but has a funny ‘trampoline’ texture which I don’t like. A lovely Irish lady whose blog is called ‘Kerry Cooks’ has a good post about this problem and she has had some success with her method. It worked a few times but then other times not. I can’t wait to try Deb’s home made cream cheese and see if works. It will have to be when I next order a delivery so not for a while. I will be sure to come back to this post and let you know how it turned out. Cheers!

          1. Melinda

            I finally got all the ingredients. I used double cream, and organic milk, and white malt vinegar (which is 5% acetic acid) It all worked and I have cream cheese but it is way too soft to use for frosting. I couldn’t find any white vinegar that wasn’t malt vinegar. My cream cheese has a vinegar taste. So, for me, this is not the answer to my cream cheese for cream cheese frosting. Melissa, if you try it and get better results, please let me know. Deb, thank you for this recipe anyway. I had fun trying it out.

    1. deb

      I haven’t used one but I presume it’s pretty fine if it’s straining yogurt so it might work. If it lets all of the curds go through, you’ll see it, and can try again with cheesecloth.

  20. sillygirl

    Reading labels has shocked me – cottage cheese, cream cheese, cream, yogurt – things that should be just a few real ingredients – many contain lots more then that. Even the cream in the stores here mostly have other things in them. That is an education.

  21. Rose Bernstein

    Would love to make this as I am allergic to the additives in cream cheese. However I am also lactose intolerant so I can’t use heavy cream. Any suggestions?

    1. AnnieN

      There is very little lactose in heavy cream, something like 0.5gram per 1/2 ounce of cream. Unless you are extremely lactose intolerant, you should be ok.

      1. Bethany H

        I was so excited to make this but after following the recipe and buying the right milk, it was far too close to a liquid. I strained it a second time but it’s still not thickening very much. It’s in my fridge now just in case something magical happens. Is there any saving it? Or anything I should try differently next time? 😩

        1. deb

          Did it clump up when you added the vinegar? If it didn’t, I’d repeat the reheating process with more vinegar. If it clumps, it should be soupy, but thick-ish, once drained.

    2. Alene

      I am lactose intolerant as well, but I can tolerate heavy cream without problems. I guess because there’s so little lactose in it. Plus I don’t eat a bowl of heavy cream, lol! Just some here and there.

  22. Francoise

    Deb, This process sounds exactly the same as making ricotta. Can you go into more detail as to what is different and how you get cream cheese vs ricotta? Is it the whipping in the food processor? Thank you!

    1. deb

      I talk about it in the headnotes above the recipe:

      If you’ve ever made homemade ricotta, farmers cheese, paneer, or other fresh cheese, this process will be familiar. The primary difference with cream cheese is the addition of cream (I use it in my ricotta, but it’s not traditional), the higher level of salt (trust me, it does not taste like cream cheese without this level of salt), and the blending process.

    2. Dean Don

      Also, ricotta exists because a secondary by-product of older cheesemaking practices, sweet whey specifically, retains properties essential to additional “cheesemaking” with the application of heat, an addition of acid and whole milk, and/or with the introduction of a fermentation process.

      Some commercial manufacturers and some home cooks eschew the need for whey—a byproduct vanishingly few home cooks and professional kitchens have on hand and produce themselves—by using whole milk.

      A better analogue for ricotta is cottage cheese, which are distinguished from one another by, as you say, mechanical processing, fat (which and how much supplemental dairy is introduced), and moisture content (retaining water produced when separating proteins or draining/straining). Cottage cheese starts with whey, whereas cottage and cream involve processing the curds for the preferred texture and adequate moisture content.

      Cottage starts with the application of heat and acid to milk only, prompting the separation of whey and curd. The latter is further subjected to more heat, partially drained again of some of its whey resulting, like ricotta, in a sour whey (which can be used in other dishes as a water-y but more pungent and less astringent acid) and then the small or large curd results are enriched/dressed with straight milk or cream.

      The primary ingredients of cream cheese are milk and cream combined. Heat and acid are applied not to create very stiff curds but to thicken the slurry without concentrating; drainage time is considerably shorter to reduce separation but retain a spreadable quality with an moisture content. Texture is further enhanced with processing. Stabilizers (generally both chemical and mechanical) may be introduced here to ensure an even and long-lasting uniform texture different from both ricotta and cottage cheeses.

      Ricotta is lean, generally fresh whey supplemented with whole milk for protein and fat. After heat- and acid-processing both briefly together to coagulate/thicken (but not concentrate), the end result is drained resulting in the characteristic ricotta texture.

      All three are regarded as fresh cheeses and are not generally aged, with some exceptions used to enhance flavor, increase sodium content, or extend shelf life.

      Ricotta follows the secondary production of whey from rennet-based cheesemaking. Cottage cheese does not. Some cream cheese involve the direction application of rennet, but generally as a supplement to acid during fermentation to ensure smooth texture. In spite of this, all three are regarded as acid-set.

  23. Kari

    Since you mention the salt is so important which ‘fine sea salt’ do you use? I’m on the West Coast so not sure what is available here. Thank you! I am definitely going to try this!!

  24. Rose

    Stabilizers in store bought cream cheese DO keep me up at night (nearly)! I never thought i could make cream cheese myself. But do you use organic cream to avoid the stabilizers there? Very hard to find here in Canada…

  25. Kate

    Wish I knew about this when the grocery pickup sent us 2 gallons of milk that expired in 2 days! Instead I have a quart of pudding in my freezer :-/

  26. Kate E Cohen

    For years I’ve used birdseye cloth diapers — the kind you’d have to fold yourself to get the right thickness — for every culinary straining/filtering/squeezing need: jelly, spinach, shredded potatoes, ricotta, etc. Washable and inexpensive (maybe $1 a piece).

  27. Oh yum! I can’t wait to make this! I’m thinking about making this with your soft pretzels! Homemade cream cheese + homemade soft pretzels such a great combo!

  28. LB

    Whey as a soup stock?! I would love some recipes/suggestions on how to do this–I hate getting rid of whey, but there’s only so much bread I can eat!

  29. Donna

    Several years ago, after hearing about the diagnosis of a close cousin, my daughter told me she would die if she were ever diagnosed as lactose intolerant. She loves her ice cream, yogurt, cream, and CHEESE! A couple of years later, she got the same diagnosis. It has been a long mourning period for her, giving up dairy. Occasionally, she will indulge in say, a sliver of cheesecake, and then be sick for 2-3 days afterwards.
    All of this to say, I can now try to make cream cheese using lactose-free whole milk. (You can buy lactose-free cream cheese at specialty stores, but you really pay for it.) All of the lactose-free milk I’ve seen is ultra-pastuerized, which might be a problem. But I have had luck making ricotta using that milk, so maybe this will work too. I will let you know how it turns out.
    If it works, this will be HUGE in my household.

  30. Carrie S

    Came to look at your homemade bagel recipe yesterday only to be delighted that the most recent recipe is for homemade cream cheese. If that wasn’t destiny enough, I’m a mom to a one-year-old so I have a fridge of whole milk. while I didn’t have cheesecloth, I did have a clean elephant swaddle blanket. Deeply enjoyed the bagel and cream cheese combo.

    1. Gretchen

      I made this and the taste is very similar to store bought cream cheese but the consistency is not as smooth as i had hoped…..its similar to ricotta in texture despite whipping the heck out of it! Anyone else have this result?!

  31. Lauren

    I have recently ( during the last 6 months) been doing a lot of Boursin-type herb cheeses and beer cheeses so that I can have a few crackers and cheese for an appetizer, or lunch or whatever. Most of them have cream cheese in them so now I am going to make a few of the favorites with homemade cream cheese. I generally buy Neufchatel instead of cream cheese, but it will be nice to try this so that I can compare. My granddaughter will be delighted too- she loves cream cheese ( and sprinkles!) I will be a hero with this combo!!!

    1. deb

      I am sure you can find it for half that price at many stores. It takes me forever to go through a container because a little goes a long way. The equivalent weight would be table/iodized salt but many cooks don’t like the taste.

      1. Ellen N.

        In Los Angeles, CA, I get SoSalt brand fine sea salt from Sicily at the 99 Cent Store. It costs 99 cents for 1,000 grams.

        In addition to being far less expensive that Baleine, it comes in a cardboard box which is easier to measure from. I used to buy Baleine. I always found the package annoying.

        Also, here’s a link to a different Amazon page for Baleine fine sea salt with a lower price.

        https://www.amazon.com/Baleine-Salt-Crystals-Canister-Ounce/dp/B000VHNOSM

  32. jessica

    ok this seems obvious to me, but i want to check. i can’t get pasteurized cream near me, only ultra, but i normally buy organic valley half & half which is just milk and cream. do you think it will work properly with 1/2 cup half & half and 3 3/4 cup whole milk? it should, right?

      1. Ruth

        I usually don’t have whole milk around, just skim. I hate buying a quart of whole milk just to use one cup in a recipe. I would love to see a substitution chart for mixing various types of milk and cream to achieve the required milkfat.

  33. Teresa Jewell

    My partner can do goat milk but not cow milk, and goat cream is hard to find. Do you think I would still get something worth eating if I used whole milk for both the milk and cream quantities?

  34. Hillary

    Excited to try this and went searching for a bagel recipe on your site! Maybe you can update your old bagel recipe with new photos and instructions. In particular, I’d love weights for the flour.

  35. Michelle

    I am so in love with this recipe right now Deb. I have been looking to make homemade cream cheese for the past couple years and could never find a recipe I liked. Thank you for staying relevant! ❤️

  36. Lisa G

    I love all dairy – I make my own yogurt and labna – so this looks like a do-er!

    I worked in bagel shop when I was student a few millenia ago. I think the best spread add-in for cream cheese is mix in chopped walnuts, raisins and bit of honey (not too much) and spread it on a toasted sesame bagel…heaven. And this with homeade cream cheese sounds amazing.

  37. Oh I love the idea!

    Never considered making cream cheese. I’m a big lover of cheesecakes and can imagine this tastes amazing in a cake! My hubby cooks and bakes way better than me, so I will have to certainly get him on to the task – haha

  38. Tanya

    My mind is blown, and relieved to know I can make this! With the second wave about to hit us, I just stocked up on cream cheese to get me to Christmas and felt like a crazy person. (My one rigidity, is the need for cream cheese bagels in the morning.)
    Thank you!!

    1. Anne

      Do any of you live in places where there is no “plain” white vinegar, just different percentages ranging from 3% to 35% (where the latter is definitely not food grade)? If so, what percentage vinegar did you use for this? I made the recipe with no modifications, and it turned out great consistency wise, but the cheese (and the whey) tasted really vinegary.

  39. Kate

    Does this mean I could make chocolate cream cheese?! When they discontinued it was a sad day. Tortilla, chocolate cream cheese, whole banana. Warp it. Enjoy dessert for breakfast. How much cocoa powder should I add?

  40. Andrea

    I am so so happy for this recipe! I tried a few years ago to make my own cream cheese, and by tried I mean I bought the special thermometer, rennet, some other starter. . . but the directions required basically a full 24 hours and I could never get past it. This I will definitely try!!

  41. Rose Grey

    I’m wondering if anyone else from NZ has tried this? It was my first SK fail – had hardly any curds and it was completely liquid when I processed it, plus refused to set at all. I assume it must be that the proportion of fat in our cream is too low (we don’t generally get “heavy” cream, just cream, which is about 40g fat per 100ml).

    1. deb

      In general, when it’s too watery, one of two things may be the case: the cheesecloth may be too fine (but this, I think is less likely; the reusable stuff I’m using is very fine and still strained in 10 minutes on one batch), or it didn’t have enough acidity to create a curd. If it’s the latter, you might try putting it back on the stove, bringing it to that barely-simmer, and adding more vinegar — see if it does the trick.

  42. Sarah

    Is there anyway to save it if it’s too watery? I drained it for 20 minutes and put it in the blender. It’s still really liquid. Help!

    1. deb

      Did you use white vinegar? In general, when it’s too watery, one of two things may be the case: the cheesecloth may be too fine (but this, I think is less likely; the reusable stuff I’m using is very fine and still strained in 10 minutes on one batch), or it didn’t have enough acidity to create a curd. If it’s the latter, you might try putting it back on the stove, bringing it to that barely-simmer, and adding more vinegar — see if it does the trick.

  43. Linda Marlow

    thanks, Deb! Yogurt, ricotta- now my own cream cheese! AND all this on top of my sourdough bread (resisted for so long, finally succumbed and love the product). Thank heaven I am retired and am only needed in the garden and my kitchen. Your posts are inspiring…

    1. deb

      I won’t use it to bake with because it’s a bit too much work for something I can get easily, but I do think you could. I haven’t baked with it, but it’s pretty firm from the fridge, like the storebought stuff.

  44. Jeanne

    Batch #1 never got clumps. I spilled half when I tried to put it back into the pot to add more vinegar. Batch #2, added 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of vinegar. Still draining, never got clumps, just looks a bit grainy. I will let it set up/cool off a bit and try to put it in the food processor. Hoping it firms up enough…?

  45. Constance Jardim

    I am wondering about the very short drainage time. I checked out some other recipes and some of them take days to make. What makes this one different, so that you only drain for less than 30 minutes.

  46. Sheri B

    Oh yeah! I just made this cream cheese – exactly as written, using Organic Valley whole milk and heavy cream (the only brand that didn’t have other stuff listed in the ingredients!)
    Added chopped scallions – it’s in the fridge now and I can’t wait to smear it on my bagel in the morning!
    It tastes delicious and is the perfect consistency – THANK YOU!

  47. Caitlin

    I made this recipe this morning, it really did only take 30 minutes! I use a very thin flour sack kitchen towel in lieu of cheesecloth and it works perfectly. My question for Deb is whether you have thoughts on how to make cream cheese from this method more tangy?

  48. Jess

    I hope it came together, but if it didn’t you might want to take a closer look at the milk you used. If you used anything that was ultrapasteurized/homogenized, it won’t work. When I make these kinds of recipes (e.g., ricotta) I use plain/store-brand whole milk – nothing fancy.

    1. Vanya

      I made this but after I blended it, it was too runny. It probably didn’t strain enough but wondering is u can do anything to fix it? I’ve stuck it in the refrigerator to see if that might help but it is practically a liquid and not the lovely creamy texture in the pictures.

      1. Elena K

        I had the same issue and I can’t figure out why. I followed the recipe exactly, including the ingredient notes. It was clumpy just like in Deb’s Instagram highlight video but once I put it in the blender, even just for a few seconds, it became runny. It’s in the fridge now so I’ll have to see if it can be saved but it’s disappointing, especially since I made a double batch and bought all the other ingredients to make the veggie version. This is one of the very few out of many, many SK recipes that did not work for me.

        1. deb

          When you say runny, do you mean soft like cream cheese on a toasted bagel (I show this in the photo) or like liquid? If liquid, and it definitely clumped, how was the whey? Was it milky or clear/yellow? It should be the latter. Milky could be a sign the cheese slipped through.

        2. Laura

          Same issue here! Closely followed directions and consistency was way too runny after using the blender (almost like a cream cheese sauce and not like melted cream cheese on a warm bagel). To save the batch, I reheated it on the stove to thicken, which caused some separation. I strained it through the cheesecloth/strainer again and can use the solid bits that are left (although texture is very grainy). Meanwhile a package of cream cheese is taunting me from the fridge.

            1. Laura

              Yes to clumps of cheese! Thanks for the tips. Good recipe to have in case of a pandemic or some other travesty that would mean the stores will run out of the good stuff.

  49. Diane

    Can this homemade version be frozen? I have had good luck with store bought cream cheese frozen for several months and thawed in the fridge. Hoping I can portion this recipe out and freezing some. I am thinking about a Fall flavor of pumpkin spice…

  50. Debby

    This looks mahhvelous! And thanks to everyone who asked the questions about lactose free milk. I’m going to try this recipe soon, because, … why not? It’s from Deb!

  51. Amanda

    Despite making homemade yogurt on a weekly basis, homemade cream cheese had never even crossed my mind. Riding out a mild COVID case, heavy cream on the verge of turning, I decided you posted this JUST for me and I couldn’t waste the opportunity. I don’t typically keep whole milk in the house, so gambled and made this with 2% milk. I doubled the recipe and increased the heavy cream in the base recipe from 1/4 to 1/3 cup to make up for the lower fat content. I strained in the mesh bag I use to strain my yogurt — I can’t stand fiddling with cheesecloth. After about 20 minutes, my (double batch) yield was about 12 ounces of cream cheese. It was delicious! I have plans to make carrot cake on the horizon, and I will make this again and strain a little extra to use as a base for the frosting.

    A handy tip I learned from yogurt-making to prevent milk proteins from sticking to the base of the pan and making it hard to clean: swirl some ice cubes in the bottom of your pan and allow it to sit and chill for a minute, then dump the cubes but DO NOT wipe out the pan. That thin, thin coat of water left in the pan works some chemistry magic to prevent the milk proteins from sticking. Also heat the milk over medium, no higher — will take longer, but drastically reduces the formation of crud on the bottom of the pan.

    Thanks, Deb!!

  52. Rebecca

    I made this and it was good, but something about the “mouthfeel” felt a little off. It wasn’t as smooth and “creamy” as the cream cheese I’m used to from the store. Maybe I should have drained it longer? Processed it more? Or is that just what to expect from homemade vs storebought?

  53. Kelly

    Love! Although I thought the vegetable cream cheese sounded amazing, we’re going to have sweeter bagels for break fast, so wanted to go with a sweeter flavored cream cheese. I ended up adding honey and toasted chopped pecans; for anyone else that wants to try, I doubled the cream cheese recipe and about 3 – 4 tablespoons of honey and around a half cup of chopped, toasted pecans is what seemed right to me.

    Thanks for the great recipe!

  54. Elena K

    Deb help! I just made a batch, it was pretty thick and then I blended it up and it’s really runny.

    I used whole milk and Whole Foods heavy cream (only ingredients are cream and milk, no gellan gum). Is it ruined? I’m making a double batch so I’m on the second one and would love to save at least one of them if possible!

    Thanks,
    Elena

    1. deb

      When you say runny, do you mean soft like cream cheese on a toasted bagel (I show this in the photo) or like liquid? If liquid, and it definitely clumped, how was the whey? Was it milky or clear/yellow? It should be the latter. Milky could be a sign the cheese slipped through.

  55. Karen

    I made this today! I could not believe how easy it was.. I doubled the recipe and left half plain then madE garden Vegetable with the other half.. its great! Thank you

  56. Amy

    At least 35 years ago, my local cheese store introduced me to cream cheese made without gum or other stabilizers. What a revelation! Since then I have asked for it at the best cheese stores many times, with no results—and I’m in the middle of Chicago. Thank you so much for this. I will be making it very soon.

  57. Madeline

    Have you tried making yogurt cream cheese?
    It is sooo good and much simpler.
    Put a coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl.
    Add natural yogurt and refrigerate an hour or more.
    When yogurt is reduced by half it should be thick like cream cheese.
    Perfect spread for bagels & smoked salmon with sweet onion. dill & capers.
    Hope you like it.

  58. Lisa

    Don’t throw out the whey. It’s full of protein and makes a great soup base. Last time I made cheese, I used it to make a great vichyssoise (cold) or potage parmentier (hot).

  59. I made this and used regular pasteurized homoginized milk and ultra pasteurized heavy cream ( ingredients listed as cream carrageenan, mono and diglycerides and polysorbate 80) as there was no other heavy cream option at my local grocery store. I decided the ingredients were cheap enough I wouldn’t be too upset if it didn’t work. It did work. I drained it through an old dishcloth. It took a long time to drain and I feel like maybe some of the people having troubles are just not letting it get dry enough before blending. I made a double recipe and left half plain, the other half I made a honey, toasted pecan cream cheese. Tastes great, but wow, there are alot of dishes to wash to make this!

  60. You know I think this is a brilliant idea! Sure you can buy cream cheese in the shop but if you make it yourself you can make it in the batch size you need. Less chance of it going off (which is pretty common in this house). Thanks for sharing!

  61. Sue C

    WOW! I can’t believe I just made my own cream cheese. Directions are simple and easy to make – dangerously easy. I made mine a scallion cream cheese & my husband was blown away. Thanks :)

  62. Mary M

    The batch I made with whole milk came out great! I left it plain. I think I’ll add tomato powder and dried basil to my next batch.

    However, the batch I made with goat milk didn’t curdle. Can anyone help me out with why that was (and what I might do to fix the problem)? The carton said the goat milk was ultra-pasteurized. Unfortunately I didn’t think to compare the protein & fat content with cow’s milk before I threw away the carton. I’ll check the next time I’m in the dairy aisle.

    1. Helen in CA

      I think the problem you ran into is the “ultra-pasteurized”. In fact, Deb – you might add that to your notes, to not use ultra-pasteurized milk.

  63. Hillary

    Hi! It seems in the comments that there is a question over what type of vinegar to use. Is “white vinegar” the same as the generic white distilled vinegar with 5% acidity?

  64. Why have you schmeared in such a fashion as to clog your holes?!? Is this how NYers schmear?! I’m appalled. Your poor bagels have lost their holes! They could be hamburger buns for all I know. I feel confused; possibly betrayed. Please explain.

    1. Cait

      What?? Schmearing evenly across the top ensures that you get the very best possible last bite of the bagel–the sides of the hole (which has the chewiest texture and usually accumulated extra toppings during baking) plus the thickest cream cheese to bagel ratio.

    2. deb

      Bwahaha. I love this. It was, in fact, the bagel’s fault. We grabbed bagels from Tomkins Square Bagels — they’re very good — but for whatever reason, the holes were closed up that day. I’m not the kind of food stylist (read: a professional) who will then run out to another bagel shop so the bagel could look more prototypical.

      1. Molly

        Phew; relieved to hear this is not normal. Cait – the authority has spoken; you’re obviously a madwoman for schmearing over your holes on purpose. Best of luck on your path to wellness ;)

  65. LindaM

    Hi Deb. I’ve made your ricotta many times and love it! Was excited to see this and couldn’t wait to try it. I followed your instructions and after 25 minutes of draining, (in the reusable cheese cloth, thanks!), it was still really soupy. When I lifted the cheese cloth out of the strainer a steady stream of whey was pouring out. Having never made this before I wasn’t sure if that was acceptable, so I tied up the cheese cloth and let it hang until the amount of dripping was more in line with what you described it should be after 20 minutes. So my question is… should I expect that steady stream of whey after 20 minutes?

    1. deb

      No. Did it clump up when you added the vinegar? If it didn’t, I’d repeat the reheating process with more vinegar. If it clumps, it should be thickly soupy once drained.

  66. Semhal O’Gorman

    Could you use this to make cheesecake or cream cheese frosting? I can’t get block cream cheese, only the spread which is not suitable for either of the above. I’m always looking for how I could do this!

    1. deb

      My hunch is yes. Mine firmed up the way block cream cheese does in the fridge. But with the caveat that I haven’t tested it as either; only as a spread.

  67. steph

    This turned out perfectly with plain old milk and cream from Trader Joe’s. I used my Vitamix to blend, which worked fine, but I think next time I might try the immersion blender and save having to scrape out the container.

  68. Brenda

    I got a hankering for homemade bagels and cream cheese, and figured I’d give this recipe a go. It worked beautifully, even without a thermometer to check the temperature of the milk. I never have cheesecloth handy, so I strained it through a relatively open-weave linen napkin in a fine mesh strainer. I’ll definitely make it again!

  69. Jen

    I had the same problem as some other commenters, the product after processing was too liquid. To try to salvage it, I put the processed liquid and the liquid that had originally drained off together back in the pot and re-heated to 200-205. I added 1/4 cup of white vinegar (decided to go big), let rest and then drained again. Re-heating and adding more vinegar salvaged the cheese. When I processed it a second time it came to a nice cream cheese consistency, but the texture on the final product was grainy/pasty. It was fine, but not make-again delicious. I used the left-over whey to make a vegetable cabbage soup which was delish.