I wanna’ make homemade cream cheese!

Tasting my cured fish, I longed for some homemade cream cheese. I don’t know why I haven’t tried this before. I make everything else. I want cream cheese, though. I don’t want labneh. That’s greek yogurt that’s been left to hang too long and most of the whey has been removed. I want homemade cream cheese. Honest to goodness homemade cream cheese. So I have been doing some research:

Pastuerized Milk

Real cream cheese is made out of a 50/50 mixture of heavy cream and whole milk, mesophilic culture, and rennet. It is heated, stirred, rested, cut, and then finally, strained in a butter cheesecloth.  Sounds simple enough, but to get it right, we have to pay attention to details.  The devil is in the details.  First, I have to find some milk.  Here in Maryland, it’s illegal to sell raw milk.  I’ve worked on a dairy farm and I’m not sure I’d be comfortable eating raw milk that’s been held at or above room temperature for more than a couple of minutes.  I’ll stick with the processed stuff.  But there’s a catch!  (There’s always a catch.  Ugh.)   My first thought is to go buy some of that expensive, high-quality, organic milk at Whole Paycheck Foods!  But then I realize that the people that are paying for the expensive milk want it to last for 1-2 months in their refrigerators, so the bottling companies ULTRA pasteurize it. What’s ULTRA pasteurization?? Let’s check with the FDA:

[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 21, Volume 2]
[Revised as of April 1, 2013]
[CITE: 21CFR131.3]


Subpart A--General Provisions

Sec. 131.3 Definitions.
(a)Cream means the liquid milk product high in fat separated from milk, which may have been adjusted by adding thereto: Milk, concentrated milk, dry whole milk, skim milk, concentrated skim milk, or nonfat dry milk. Cream contains not less than 18 percent milk fat.

(b)Pasteurized when used to describe a dairy product means that every particle of such product shall have been heated in properly operated equipment to one of the temperatures specified in the table of this paragraph and held continuously at or above that temperature for the specified time (or other time/temperature relationship which has been demonstrated to be equivalent thereto in microbial destruction):

Temperature Time
145 deg. F* 30 minutes
161 deg. F* 15 seconds
191 deg. F 1 second
204 deg. F 0.05 second
212 deg. F 0.01 second
* If the dairy ingredient has a fat content of 10 percent or more, or if it contains added sweeteners, the specified temperature shall be increased by 5 deg. F.

(c)Ultra-pasteurized when used to describe a dairy product means that such product shall have been thermally processed at or above 280 deg. F for at least 2 seconds, either before or after packaging, so as to produce a product which has an extended shelf life under refrigerated conditions.

Two Hundred Eighty degrees???  They’re pressure-cooking my milk!  No wonder it tastes burnt!  I can only imagine what that’s doing to the proteins that I want to caress into a smooth ball of silky cheese. Cheese made with ultra-pasteurized milk will be gritty and lumpy.  Those temperatures can denature the casein proteins in the milk into a sticky gloppy lumpy mess. Those temperatures also kill a lot of the enzymes that are good for us and help us to digest the milk.  Bottom line, don’t drink or eat or try to make cheese with UHT pasteurized milk.   There’s gotta be a better way…

HTST Pasteurization

HTST stands for High Temperature/Short Time.  That second line in the chart above seems like a good compromise.  In fact, it’s the most common pasteurization process in the US.  Back at the health food store, I start to see the difference.  Some bottles are marked “pasteurized” and the rest are marked “UHT”.   With careful selection, I think I’ve found my first ingredients.  I can buy the organic milk and cream, but I have to make sure that it’s just pasteurized and not “UHT pasteurized”.  Just to be sure, double-check the “expires by” date, if the milk will stay “fresh” sometime into next season, you’re looking at UHT milk.  Put it back and find something with an expiration date that’s in this month.

Other Ingredients in Homemade Cream Cheese

Rennet.  What is rennet?  Rennet causes the milk to coagulate and form curds.  You will see a lot of internet recipes that call for lemon juice or some form of acid to do this.  Rennet does it better and faster and without any added flavor.  But there’s a problem here, too!  (Of course, there’s a problem.  There’s always a problem.)  I told you what rennet is, but not where rennet comes from.  Baby cows stomachs.   Calves produce rennet to digest their mother’s milk.  We use it to essentially do the same thing, but only as the first step in our cheese-making process.  As you can imagine, the calf doesn’t survive.  If you like, you can buy Liquid Vegetable Rennet, for which no animals have lost their lives. Finally, calcium chloride.  Calcium Chloride is used to ensure that you get a firm curd.  It basically increases the calcium in the milk that might be deficient in lower quality milk.  It’s a judgment call.  If you think you have a consistent source of milk, try your recipe both ways.  See what works for you.  Hopefully, buy the expensive, organic, HTST milk I should be OK without it.  I’m buying some Calcium Chloride, just in case.   I want to try two batches, one with and one without.


So, my cheese-making stuff is on order.  I’ve sourced the dairy products.  I found some Butter Muslin leftover from my early yogurt straining days.  Watch this blog for my first attempt, early next week.    Don’t forget to subscribe (upper left-hand column) so you don’t miss a single thrilling episode!

Who is making homemade cream cheese out there?  Please leave comments – or warnings, if you know better!!!



http://www.milkfacts.info/ http://www.foodrenegade.com/just-say-no-to-uht-milk/

If you want to think about the real horrors of pasteurization, go here:  http://www.realmilk.com/commentary/15-things-that-milk-pasteurization-kills/

homemade cream cheese
homemade cream cheese

About John MacDowall

I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a farm during middle school where I learned about raising animals and growing food. Now, I live in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC and wonder why people eat the way they do.

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