After posting what to some of you may seem a difficult recipe for homemade farmhouse cheddar, I want to post a cheese recipe that is so fool-proof, so simple, a five-year-old could make it. Seriously.
Hard cheeses aren’t actually that difficult, but if you don’t have any experience with the cheesemaking process, it can appear so. The process of making hard and soft cheese is similar (hard cheese just has extra steps), and once you’re comfortable making basic soft cheeses, hard cheeses will feel much more approachable. If you’re interested in the idea of making cheese but are afraid of farmhouse cheddar, this cream cheese is for you.
There are several ways to make cream cheese, but this uncooked curd method is the easiest and is a relatively light cream cheese. (Some cream cheese recipes call for heavy whipping cream, which makes a richer cream cheese, and require cooking to start the cheese.) This recipe requires NO COOKING (which is why a child could make it) and sets the curd at room temperature, which is assumed to be 72-degrees F. My house is not 72, and my cheese still set. (Your temperature should not be too much lower than 72, though. You may run into trouble if your temperature is lower than 70. In this case, the temperature in my house was around 68 and it still worked. The recommended temperature, however, is 72.)
I also experimented by freezing the half-and-half in advance to figure out if that would work. (Considering I get snowbound sometimes, I wanted to know if I could stock up cream in the freezer.) The thawed half-and-half worked fine. You really can’t mess this cheese up. It’s a great cheese to try if you’re just learning or only want to dabble in cheesemaking.
You don’t have to have a cow. Store-bought cream works just fine!
Making cheese isn’t an all or nothing proposition. Just because you bought the cream at the store doesn’t mean it’s not homemade cheese. You still have so much more control, both from a health and a taste standpoint, in the end product. You can use less or no salt. You can add your own flavorings using your own home-preserved fruits or herbs. I use my homecanned preserves to add fruit to cream cheese, such as brandied apricots. Can you get brandied apricot cream cheese at the store? (I think not!)
You can turn two quarts of half-and-half into your own gourmet cream cheese–and the effort is amazingly minimal. Especially if you get a five-year-old to do it for you. Then all you have to do is stand by with a cracker.
This recipe is from New England Cheesemaking, with notes from me.
According to the recipe, it yields about a pound. It yields more for me in actuality, over a pound and a half.
How to make Easy Homemade Cream Cheese:
2 quarts light cream or half-and-half
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
cheese salt (optional)
I use half-and-half and direct-set starter. If you’re new to cheesemaking, I recommend using direct-set as it makes life simpler. I’ve become so addicted to making cheese, I plan to start preparing my own starters, but I have a supply of direct-set on hand so I’ll continue to use those until I run out. (Starters are inexpensive. You can buy a 5-pack of direct-set starters for $5.95 here, or for only $3.00 if you order 12 packs. It’s even less expensive to prepare your own starter, which is why I intend to start doing that next. Starters keep for a long time, up to two years, in the freezer, so don’t be afraid to stock up if you like cream cheese. Mesophilic starter is also used in many other types of cheese, including farmhouse cheddar.)
Bring the cream to room temperature. (I have to set mine out for several hours after it thaws.) Pour the cream into a large pot or bowl. Add the mesophilic starter and stir thoroughly. Cover and leave it alone at room temperature for 12 hours. A solid curd will form. (This isn’t the type of cheese where you see a separation of curd and whey–it’s simply a thick, solid curd.)
If your house is not 72-degrees F, it may take longer. Since my house was a little cool, I had to let mine sit for about 15 hours. If it’s not set by 12 hours, don’t worry about it. Just give it a few more hours. When it’s ready, you should be able to put a spoon in the curd and scoop it back. (Similar to the consistency of a firm yogurt.)
Line a colander with butter muslin.
Pour the contents of the pot or bowl into the colander.
Tie the muslin corners together into a bag and hang to drain.
I tie the ends over a long paint stick and hang the cheese over a bucket.
Let it drain anywhere up to 12 hours. The consistency of your cheese will be determined by how long you let it drain. I let mine drain for about 9 hours. The longer it drains, the firmer it will be. I like a soft cream cheese most of the time–a shorter draining period is well-suited to spreads and dips. If I was planning to use it for cheesecake, for example, I’d hang it longer. Experiment with draining times to suit yourself. (There’s no right or wrong here, just what you prefer.) The cream cheese will also become more firm after you chill it when it’s finished.
Butter muslin and cheesecloth are reusable, by the way. (Butter muslin, which is finer, is used for soft cheeses. Cheesecloth is used for hard cheeses.) Rinse the cloth out then boil it in water with a little washing soda. Rinse in fresh water then hang to dry and use again! (You can purchase butter muslin, cheesecloth, starters and other ingredients and supplies from a cheesemaking supply company. The one I use is New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. You can put “cheesemaking supplies” in a search engine to find others.)
Place the drained cream cheese in a bowl and dump it out of the butter muslin. Add a teaspoon of cheese salt and mix it in (if desired–you don’t have to add salt at all!). You can also add flavorings now–if you want all your cream cheese to be the same. Or, go ahead and transfer the cream cheese to containers and flavor each container separately for your own homemade variety pack.
Leave some space in the container so you have room to mix in herbs and seasonings or fruit.
Make cream cheese with chives and onions, nuts and honey, or cinnamon and brown sugar. Add bacon bits or chopped ham. For fruit, I like to use my homemade jams.
How much to add is up to your own tastes. These containers are each about six ounces of cream cheese. (The one larger container is about eight.)
I like to use a couple of tablespoons of jam per container.
For a savory cream cheese, add herbs, garlic, onions or other minced vegetables to taste. For a rosemary and garlic cream cheese spread, I add 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried rosemary and 1-1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder plus an extra bit of salt (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) to about six ounces.
Start out adding less and test to taste until it suits you. Remember that flavor will increase as the cheese sits in the fridge, so don’t overdo it with the seasonings.
Chill the cream cheese after placing it in containers. (It’s best chilled before using, though you can use it right away.) This cheese keeps well in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Use it to spread on toast or in recipes just as you would cream cheese from the store. (Use it to make Cheesecake Cookies! Have you tried my Cheesecake Cookies? This is currently the most popular, most clicked recipe on my site.)
Depending on how often you use cream cheese, do this once or twice a month and you’ll never have to buy cream cheese again! Fresh is always better. And it’s so easy! This entire process could be done by a small child, under adult direction, and would make a really fun project. (Especially for a child who loves to eat cream cheese!)
Who wants some homemade brandied apricot cream cheese on toasted Grandmother Bread? Anyone? (Find my brandied apricots recipe here.) You know what I’m gonna do next? I’m gonna bake up some brandied apricot Cheesecake Cookies! (Yes, you can use flavored cream cheese in that recipe.)
Sometimes even I wonder why I don’t weigh 2000 pounds.
P.S. Little wants to be a cheesemaker when he grows up.
He’s a fabulous assistant in all my cheesemaking endeavors.
See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes for the handy print page and to save it to your recipe box.