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Making Homemade Cream Cheese

Making homemade cream cheese came about because this year I decided to cook a dish every week that included one specific ingredient, and for that ingredient I chose cream cheese. (I love cream cheese, I think it can be the salvation of any meal. It has been a salvation of many of my favorite meals.) When I announced my intentions on Twitter, I got a reply back from Michael Ruhlman, who constantly asks us to cook our own food. I made my own bacon after seeing his demo at the Blogher Food conference. So I looked up how to make cream cheese.
homemade cream cheese

Why would you make your own cream cheese? You don’t do it because it is more economical. You do it because you can craft your own cheese. It isn’t hard—t is pretty easy, to tell you the truth. I have personally jumped onto an organic kick, and I try to substitute organic products where I can. Organic cream cheese is expensive, but making your own from scratch isn’t quite as pricy. What I really liked was that I got to make a wonderful organic cream cheese that tastes rich and tangy.

A lot of homemade fresh cheeses—that is, cheeses that don’t have to be aged—you can make at home. Often it is simply a matter of adding some lemon juice to some milk. Letting the milk sit on the counter for 12 to 24 hours and you have homemade ricotta; leave the curds to grow a little more, and you have farmers cheese. This type of cheese is wonderful for breakfast, spread some on some toast, and you have a real homemade breakfast.

So my adventure to make homemade cream cheese didn’t take too long. You do need some supplies. I recommend purchasing some butter cloth, which has a finer weave than cheesecloth, or you could use a flour sack towel to drain the whey from the cheese. You will need a lot of half-and-half. And you will need some Mesophilic  culture, which is a mix of different bacteria and enzymes. You must make this purchase; I don’t know of any substitutes for making homemade cream cheese. One packet of the culture will set up to 2 gallons of half-and-half, but I tried it out using just 1 quart.

You can use up to 2 gallons of half and half for this recipe, or if you are like me, I am going to use 1 quart, but you this culture will set up to 2 gallons of milk.

Homemade Cream Cheese

Yield: 8 – 10 ounces of cream cheese
1 quart light cream or half and half
1 package Mesophilic  culture
Butter cloth
half and half, culture and dish

Allow your half and half to reach room temperature, your cheese will set more quickly if it isn’t refrigerator chilled when you add the starter culture.
cream cheese preparation
Add your half and half to your container, I like to use a flat baking dish to make mine, I am sure technically there is no real difference in how long it will take your cheese to set, but for me, I like to do this in a flat container.
adding the culture
Add your culture to the milk, sprinkling it over the top. I let this set for about two minutes before I stir in the culture and mix it up really well.
adding culture to milk and stirring
Next I simply place some plastic wrap overt the top of the dish, and let it set on my counter anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. While my pets would never climb on top of a countertop and see what is there, I like a little extra insurance from flying objects to land in my cream cheese.
letting the cheese set
When the cream cheese is set, it will have the texture of yogurt. It will appear to you that the whole process isn’t going to work, but here is where you wait and be patient, it really takes about 10 – 12 hours for the cream cheese to set in a cooler house, so be patient. Here is what mine looked like 10 hours after setting. When it is thick like this, you can start to drain the whey out of it.
cream cheese after it has set for 12 hours
I take the butter cloth, and make a small sling over the top of the pot, using the handles to secure the cloth. I then add my soft cream cheese into the cloth and let the whey drain out of it.
Drain the whey from the cream cheese
You can let the whey drain out for up to 12 hours. Then you have some delightful cream cheese you can package into smaller containers. You might like to stir in some herbs, or even some jam for a nice treat for breakfast.

I was really amazed how easy it was to make homemade cream cheese. This would be a fantastic project for kids, there is very little measuring. I have not tried making this recipe with milk, skim milk, or anything else, so I can’t speak to if that would work for those types of milk products. What I really liked was I got to make a wonderful organic cream cheese that tastes rich and tangy.

Can I make cheese with yogurt or buttermilk?

Yes. Yes, you can. Here is why I don’t entirely recommend it for the novice. Actually, you can try to make it with the ambient bacteria in the air, it could turn out, most likely it will fail. This is how it was originally discovered thousands of years ago. Over time our ancestors realized you could reproduce it by using whey as a starter and they would get more dependable results.

I personally think if you are trying this for the first time you should spring a couple of bucks for a culture and get dependable results. I looked up the bacteria that are in both mesophillic culture and buttermilk. They are as follows.

Mesophillic culture may contain lactose, lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris

Buttermilk may contain lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.

Yes, there is some over lap. As you can see they are not the same, so sure you will produce a type of cream cheese, but isn’t the recipe that I am sharing.

I am not the only one who loves making their own homemade cream cheese, check out these lovely folks!
Homemade cream cheese so easy a child could make it
Diana’s Homemade Cream Cheese
Homemade Cream Cheese

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  • Connie

    Hi. Do you strain the cream cheese inside the refrigerator or on the counter top? How do you get milk that is not uht? Ca not wait to make our recipe for cream cheese. Love the pictures – very helpful.

    • stephaniemanley

      I strain mine out on the counter. It could work in the fridge as well. I often find the less expensive brands of milk are not UHT, so they will work as well.

  • Nutmeg Nanny

    Hello delicious! So simple!

  • lyris

    I love cream cheese and I can’t wait to start making my own.

    • stephaniemanley

      Let me know how it goes.

  • Sarah

    How does it taste in comparison with store bought cream cheese? I just tried making cream cheese from a different recipe that used 4 cups half and half and 1 cup whipping cream (in cream form, of course… not whipped). And then I used buttermilk as the mesophilic culture. I found that it didn’t have the cream cheese taste at all, and I could tell it had whipping cream in it. I want to try your recipe, but I don’t want to be wasting my time if I’ll never get the taste of the store bought cream cheese. I don’t know what makes it taste the way it does. I just loooooooove store bought cream cheese!

    • stephaniemanley

      Does it taste like philly brand cream cheese, no. It’s pretty good though, I like it fairly well. It comes close to the store bought cheese.

      • Ashley Teixeira

        How close? Id like to make my own to use with cheesecake but not sure how itd work

        • Stephanie Manley

          I would not use it as regular philly brand cheese. I would use this for a cheesecake recipe that uses ricotta cheese.

  • NikL

    Do you know if this will work with lactose-free milk? I can’t stand soy cream cheese (shudder) and no matter how much Lactaid I take, items with cream cheese still really upset my stomach. I’ve found lactose-free yogurt (which is very good) but no cream cheese, so I thought I’d try making my own. Think it would work?

    • stephaniemanley

      I haven’t tried this with lactose-free milk. I would definitely give it a try.

  • Yehh

    … Whats half and half? branded names do not help whats different about it to other milk? – UK

    • juderobin

      1/2 light cream & 1/2 milk, not a brand but a mixture (often used in coffee)

  • Samuel Alaoui Abdallaoui

    haha where can i find that Mesophilic powder, if those are bacterias , can i collect them from air ?
    can you send me a sac of it ?

    • stephaniemanley

      You need to purchase it from a cheese making shop there are many online.

  • Michelle Manske

    First of all you need to make sure your readers know that the type of mesophilic bacteria you used has rennet already in it! This recipe will not work unless you use rennet and most mesophilic bacteria does not come preequiped with rennet! You can easily substitute BUTTERMILK for the mesophilic bacteria. use about an 1/8 cup cultured buttermilk for each gallon of half and half and 1/2 of a tablet of Rennet dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water. You also should be using anything but ULTRA pastorized milk or half and half you are using a product that has nothing live left in it so you get a subpar at best result! It makes a big difference when you use the correct ingredients.

    • Joseph Pessin

      According to this link, Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese only uses cultures and no rennet, Are you saying that is not correct?

    • stephaniemanley

      I have found decent results with using the ultra pasteurized milk before. I also do not use rennet in making this cream cheese. I followed the guidelines as listed from, and reading up on my old Readers Digest Back to Basics book. So I feel comfortable with the cream cheese made without rennet.

      Some brands of cream cheese do contain rennet. Not all brands of cream cheese contain rennet. It is not necessary for cream cheese to contain rennet.

      Typically rennet is used in cheeses that are aged for a longer amount of time, and not always used in softer cheeses.

      I like mesophillic culture it produces a blend cream cheese, it contains the following bacteria lactose, lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris

      Buttermilk may contain lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.

      Yes, there is some over lap. As you can see they are not the same.

      Sure, you can use buttermilk and yogurt, but you don’t know what culture the producer used to prepare his buttermilk or yogurt from. You also don’t really know how fresh it is, and if something is going to turn off. It may work, I will give you that. Why I like to start from a starting culture is that you know what is in your culture, and it isn’t a mystery. You will get known results.

      Do I get that using other ways will work, yes. Do I recommend this to someone who has never made this before, no.

  • Bobby

    question, if my first attempt at cream cheese came out not as smooth as i would have liked and not crumbly but somwehat slightly crumbled, does that mean to much whey drained out of it?

    • stephaniemanley

      You could have tried draining it a little longer. You could also run it through a food processor to change the texture.

  • Jean

    I”m puzzled. If you leave liquid pre-cheese dairy product on your kitchen counter (I mean, your milk/culture that is ripening into cream cheese), it can also attract bacteria in the air that you don’t want, and that can in fact make you ill. How do you prevent this? I once had home-made farmers’ cheese, and had a really severe case of food poisoning. I suppose that covering the ripening mass with plastic wrap and then refrigerating will prevent this, but then, will the mixture ripen? You mention letting it sit our on your kitchen counter for 10-12 hours. That’s the worrisome step.

    • Stephanie Manley

      You cover it with plastic while it is fermenting, if you watch the video that’s what I did.

  • Emily

    Do you add salt to your finished product? Can’t wait to try it out!

    • Stephanie Manley

      You can add a little if you like. I will add a little cheese salt, or pickling salt, both are a finer grain than regular table salt.

  • Stan

    Is this like yogurt, where I can use some of the old cream cheese as a culture starter for the new cheese?

    • stephaniemanley

      I haven’t tried this yet, but I am thinking this would work well. I need to try it the next time I make it.

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  • LauraB

    Hi Stephanie, I saw below that you suggest Mesophilic(DS)

    However, another site suggests you use Mesophilic(A)

    Is there a huge difference? Will either yield similar results?

    • Anonymous

      Honestly, I am not not aware of the differences between to two mesophillic strains. I would guess there are some slight variations in the flavor between the two. I have not made any purchases from leeners to know what theirs would be like.

      • LauraB

        Thank you Stephanie for the quick reply. I am excited to make this. Great recipe and its seems so simple and yet so gratifying!

        • Stephanie Manley

          Which culture did you try?

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  • Cheryl Kohan

    If only I weren’t lactose intolerant….~sigh~. I would SO love this.

    • Laura Hagan

      try using raw milk. I have a friend..her daughter goes into anaphylatic shock with dairy…especially store bought milk & cheese…however her daughter can have raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk

    • Katie Kearns

      The bacteria eat the lactose — homemade cream cheese (and yogurt) end up nearly lactose free, if you leave it out long enough. :> That’s why I started making it. :)

  • N_abeydeera

    Sounds so simple ! Let me try it asap. Thx for this great recipe.

  • WShera

    how do you store it once its been made to cream cheese

    • Anonymous

      I store it in the refrigerator in a covered container.

  • Lockwoodmom

    where can I purchase the culture?

  • Lockwoodmom

    where can I purchase the culture?

  • susan

    can I use 0% or low fat greek yogart to make the cream cheese ?

    • Stephanie

      I don’t think you can and for it to be “cream cheese”. You can make “yo cheese” which is draining the whey out of the yogurt it gets very thick, but it isn’t “cream cheese”.

  • Ruby in FL

    Homemade Sour Cream
    ADD 3/4 oz strained Lemon juice (use the fruit not bottled juice)
    Stir, let sit, uncovered, overnight in fridge

    Italy doesn’t have sour cream either. Creme Fraiche is just too sweet. Nor do they have cheddar cheese. They do have nacho chips. I bring cheddar or Velvetta with me to make Nachos for them. They all just loved my nachos with sour cream !

  • Ruby in FL

    Boyoboy ! You sure took the long way around ! My SIL in Italy loves cream cheese, and Italy does not have it. So i set out to make it homemade. Your method is VERY long + you have to buy culture. THERE IS AN EASY METHOD.
    1 large size (2lb) container of PLAIN GREEK YOGURT.
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 pair of knee high nylons.

    1 – Stretch 1 knee high out. Tie a knot 1/3 of the way from the toe.
    2 – Open yogurt container
    3 – ADD 1/4 tsp salt. Stir.
    4 – Put the open end of knee high over the yogurt container right up to the knot.
    5 – Turn container upside down – to dump yogurt into knee high.
    6- Hold up the knee high. Tie a knot where the yogurt ends.
    7 – Get a pan or other container that has 2 handles. Could also use a colander
    lined with foil.

    Tie 1 end to 1 handle, tie the other end
    to the other handle so that the yogurt
    bulb/ball is suspended.
    8 – Set in fridge overnight to drain.

    Wake up to LUSCIOUS and thick cream cheese.

    The salt makes it taste identical to Philadelphia Cream cheese.
    You can use organic plain Greek yogurt.
    You can eliminate the salt.
    You can add stuff to your hearts delight.

    You can make wonderfully inexpensive BOURSIN with this.
    Mix 1 cup of your cr. cheese + 3/4 cup of UNSALTED room temp softened butter + 1/2 tsp garlic powder + 1/2 tsp finely ground dried parsley. Put it in a container, put container in fridge overnight.
    Voila ! Boursin to die for !

    • Bob

      This is not cream cheese. This is Yogurt!!!

    • Bob

      This is not cream cheese. This is Yogurt!!!

    • Anonymous

      I am certain what you made is known as “YoCheese” and it is fabulous. Cream cheese is made with a different strain of microbes. I love that style of cheese, but I was out to make cream cheese.

      • Samuel Alaoui Abdallaoui

        i need those god dam microbs lol where do they hide,
        kefir is next on the list!!

  • Jane M

    Wow! that is so cool, I can hardly wait to try it. I’m looking forward to your sour cream recipe.

  • Sarasvati

    This looks scrumptious and so easy! I wonder if I could make the cream cheese in the yogurt maker instead of letting it sit for hours on the counter?


    • Stephanie

      I think this would be a great way to do this.

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  • James

    Very interesting – never knew about making cream cheese at home!

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  • Cindy

    All of the cheese recipes that I have read said to not use ultra pasturized milks.
    Does this not apply to cream cheese? Finding milk that is not ultra pasturized is very difficult.

    • Stephanie

      For milk that isn’t ultra pasturized, I always check for the milk that is the most inexpensive, it is often not ultra pasturized.

    • Aberdeen

      I only have access to the ultra-pasturized (I live in a small village in Alaska). It works just fine for yogurt, even though most of the recipes I found said it wouldn’t. I haven’t tried cream cheese, yet, but I’m going to.

      • Stephanie

        I have made it with ultra pasturized milk and it works well.

  • Claire

    Stephanie, this looks great! And not scary at all, thanks for taking the plunge! I’ll be trying this soon, I think some of my recipes would be better with home-made cream cheese!

    • Stephanie

      Claire! This really is easy to make. When you order from them, check out their sour cream, and some of their yogurt. No, this wasn’t a paid endorsement!

  • Beth

    How long does this keep in the fridge?

    • Stephanie

      Mine has kept up to for a week in my refrigerator. I can’t speak for how long this will stay fresh beyond 7 days.

  • Wendy

    Half and half is half heavy (whipping) cream and half whole milk, so it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find those items just about anywhere.

    Do you think you’ll be writing up your recipe for ricotta anytime soon? I’d love to try making that!

    • Stephanie

      I may put that recipe up. I haven’t made that recipe yet. My other dairy adventures have included homemade sour cream though, but I haven’t posted that recipe yet.

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  • Darlene

    What is the yield on this? I know part of the yield depends on how long you drain it, but do you have a ballpark figure of how much it makes – 8oz, 4 oz?

    • Stephanie

      I get a good 10 ounces+. I have let mine drain for up to 20 hours before placing in fridge.

  • Darlene

    You do know, don’t you that you can split that packet of culture and store what you haven’t used in the freeze?

    • Stephanie

      I will definitely do that the next time. Or I will simply make more. That dawned on me on my second round of making the cream cheese. Thanks for the tip!

  • Pam

    What is half and half and where would you buy the the mesophilic culture? I am in the UK Thanx

    • Stephanie

      Half and Half I believe is light cream. I have given the link to buy the culture in the US, I bet you have some cheese making supply shops in the UK. HEre is link to one UK supplier, ask them if they can assist. Cheese making supplies in the UK

    • Cheryl Beuning

      USA equivalent of one cup “half and half” IS one cup light cream, also called single cream in the UK is sometimes referred to as coffee or table cream.

      • Meagan

        half and half is 10% fat, light cream is 5% fat

  • Damaris

    woah that is easy! I’ll have to try it. I normally make my own yogurt and then use a cheese cloth and make yogurt cheese, but it’s not the same as cream cheese.

    • Stephanie

      I have made the homemade yogurt too. This is pretty easy as well. It is very similar to making yocheese.

  • Amanda

    How genius are you?? It NEVER even occurred to me!!! Love all you do girl!

    • Stephanie

      Well if Ruhlman wouldn’t have mentioned it, I don’t think I would have thought about it.

  • Fran

    OMG! OMG! OMG! I love making things from scratch and items that no one would ever think of making. It’s like a personal challenge and this one is going ON TOP of my list! I love love love cream cheese as well and I am 100% sure it’s superior to my old standby. I remember getting fresh cream cheese at Tabatchniks — the Jewish deli my dad would take me to on Saturdays to pick up bagels and lox and all the fixin’s for the weekend. We’d get a block of plain and one with chives. YUM! I can’t wait to make this.

    • Stephanie

      I am thinking that combined with some fresh sour cream would be heaven. I will be doing that very soon.

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  • Tina Marie

    That looks really good!

  • Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    Very cool! I make ricotta cheese all the time, but never took the next step to buy cultures. I’m missing out, aren’t I?

    • Stephanie

      New England Cheese company has tons of cultures. I bought about 8 of them the other day. Lots of dairy goodness is going to be coming out of my kitchen very soon.

  • zerrin

    I must say that this is what I wnat to make for some time. I make my own bread, I make my own yogurt, and it is time for me to make my own cheese at home. But I don’t think I can find that half and half here in Turkey. So I guess I must replace it with light cream. And I will absolutely spread it on my newly baked bread. Thanks for the idea!