RECIPE: Homemade Cream Cheese

Oh my gosh! I made cream cheese! I HOMEMADE CREAM CHEESE!!!

20130203-192717.jpgAm I excited? Hell yes!

For most kids, the birthday cake of choice is some heavily frosted, colorful thing with sprinkles and firecrackers and juggling monkeys, but when I was a kid, I wanted cheesecake–my mom’s lemony-crusted cheesecake to be exact–because I loved, loved, loved cream cheese (although a juggling monkey on it would have been pretty sweet too!).

20130203-101809.jpgBagels were an excuse to eat cream cheese. Carrot cake only tasted good because of cream cheese frosting.

We even had a favorite Mexican restaurant where I always ordered their amazing cream cheese and chicken enchiladas.

But anytime I ate my favorite cheesecake or had those amazing enchiladas, I got one of my throwing-up kind of migraines. Somehow, my mom and I didn’t link cream cheese as the factor. Come on! It’s cream cheese, made of cream! From cows! What can be so bad?

20130203-192710.jpgFor years, we assumed I must be allergic to the cilantro in the enchiladas, and blamed the rest of the migraines on the woes of puberty (which does play a huge role since hormonal balance is key). I carried the notion of a cilantro allergy well into adulthood–until ice cream started making me sick in that same way, and I learned about stablizers like guar gum, carob bean gum, locust bean gum, and carrageenan, and how they were in fact the nasty evil culprits. Even worse? I haven’t found a single cream cheese on the market without these stabilizers. Not one.

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Of all the foods I’ve had to give up over the years due to migraines, cream cheese is the one I miss the most (and peanut butter, of course, although almond butter is a fantastic replacement). It never dawned on me I could make cream cheese at home until I googled it and found a TON of recipes, each one touting how easy it was to do.

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The challenge is finding “good” cream to begin with, which is geting harder and harder to do. Standard grocery stores rarely have additive free cream. Straus is my usual go to, and I can get that at Mother’s or Whole foods, but I snagged this Clover brand instead since it was a bit cheaper (Mother’s Market in Orange). There should be nothing else on the ingredient list but CREAM. Period.

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There are many different techniques to making cream cheese online, some using cultures, some using rennet, others using lemon or vinegar. I read one article that explained how cream cheese using a culture is more like yogurt cheese, not cream cheese, and since rennet creeps me out (it’s an enzyme extracted from slaughtered, unweaned calves), I decided to go the vinegar route, and used a recipe from the All Day I Dream About Food blog, (originally sourced then modified from a Lynne Rosetto Kasper of the Splendid Table recipe).

It was so easy I thought I must be doing something wrong, so I consulted back to the original blog post and she said almost the same thing about thinking she must be doing something wrong. There is no cook time listed for once you start simmering and it’s hard to tell when the curds start separating, but as she says, it seems to be a VERY forgiving process. And quite explosive! Once the vinegar was added it started popping and spitting. Pretty cool, other than the cleanup.

20130203-080408.jpgI simmered it for probably fifteen minutes then started to scoop even though I wasn’t sure it was ready. It kind of looked like a thick lumpy cream, and began pulling away from the side of the pan (hard to see in the below picture since my stove light burned out).

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The curds spent the night separating from the whey in the fridge, and the next morning I woke at a ridiculous-for-a-weekend 5 A.M. eager to see if I in fact had cream cheese. The texture?Amazing! Overnight, the clumpy curds transformed into a beautifully smooth and creamy bundle of beautifulness. Does it taste like cream cheese? Well… I’d say it tastes more like a marscapone or even a Devonshire cream because it doesn’t have the tang of commercial cream cheese, but that doesn’t take away from this fantastically creamy and delicious cheese. For the first taste, I spread a little on some toasted cranberry bread and topped it with a strawberry. Ah… like a little bit of heaven.

Since I’d like to master the art of cream cheese making, next time, I’ll experiment with making a cultured cream cheese to see if I can get that tang, but regardless, I will absolutely make this creme-anglaise tasting version again. It is decadently fantastic.

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THE RECIPE

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Ingredients:

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar

Instructions:

  • Line 2 medium sieves with cheesecloth or cotton tea towels and place over bowls.

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  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, half and half, milk and salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low and simmer gently.
  • Stir in the vinegar and continue to simmer until cream mixture separates and curds appear and float to the top. Curds will begin to clump together.
  • Remove from heat. Scoop out curds with a slotted spoon and divide between lined sieves. When you are getting to the bottom of the pan and it’s hard to scoop them out, feel free to pour all of the mixture into the sieves.
  • Let drain until whey is removed, at least 4 hours. This is faster if you divvy the curds up into two sieves, as opposed to one. You can also hang the cheesecloth/tea towels filled with curds to encourage it to drain faster.

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  • Once curds have the consistency of room temperature cream cheese, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

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  • Keeps for about a week

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And because I just couldn’t wait for cheesecake, I made some little cheesecakes in muffin tins… and OMG. OMG!!!! Beyond, beyond delicious.

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Until next time, when I explore the world of “Raw Balls”…

Later gators!

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