I made cream cheese to serve on Mother's Day. I served some of it plain and some flavored. My mother was so impressed that she ordered her own copy of Home Cheese Making.
There are four different cream cheese recipes in the book, and in the interest of time and my sanity, I made what looked like the simplest version – the uncooked-curd method. (The others are the cooked-curd method, Swiss-style, and French-style. I'll discuss those as I work my way through them eventually.)
To make cream cheese you first need – surprise, surprise – cream. Light cream or half-and-half will work, but the thing is, it must not be ULTRA-pasteurized. That's the main thing. Pasteurized = successful cheesemaking, ULTRA-pasteurized = UNsuccessful cheesemaking. I ended up buying pasteurized cream from a local dairy, as I couldn't find any in the grocery store.
So here's what you need:
2 quarts pasteurized light cream or pasteurized half-and-half
1 packet direct-set mesophilic starter or 4 oz prepared mesophilic starter
Cheese salt (optional) (I didn't use any)
Herbs (optional) (I used a variety of add-ins, which I'll go into at the end.)
Before I get to the how-to portion, I have to share with you the little description from the book:
Easy to make, rich, and creamy, this cheese is one even your kids can make and enjoy.
And it's true. I could have let Julia or Alex do a lot of the work for me (and maybe, since it was for mother's day, I should have), but I ended up doing it myself because I wanted to. Alex probably wouldn't be interested anyway, since he's not fond of cream cheese. Just wait, Alex, those cheddars will be ready to try soon! Well, kind of soon….
Okay, so you've got your pot and other equipment all nice and sanitized. Now you just bring the cream to room temperature (72 degrees F) (I did this in a pot on a heat diffuser over a medium flame). Add in the starter and mix thoroughly.
Then you cover the pot and let it all set at 72F for 12 hours. A solid curd will form.
Really, that's it, mostly.
So I did that Friday evening and let it sit overnight.
The next morning, time for the unveiling.
Here's the pot of cream, wrapped snugly in a towel because yes, I'm one of those cheesemakers who insist that the cheese wear a sweater just because I'm chilly. They complain about me to their friends all the time.
I guess you call this part a strip-cheese.
I removed the lid. And really, when I'm making any kind of "let it set overnight" sort of cheese, this is the moment where the music swells and…and…there'd be a commercial break if this was prime time drama.
But since it's not…here's how it looked:
We have curd! Creamy, nicely set, curd. Phew! See how, in the picture below, there's no liquid rushing to fill in that little indentation where my finger was? Success!
I could have just dumped the whole pot into the collander…but I thought it would be nice to see how it looked if I spooned some of it out first.
So here I go.
After that, I poured – gently – the rest of the curd into the collander.
So here's the cheese in the lined collander.
Next, I tied the opposite corners together and ran the handle of a wooden spoon under the knots.
And then I hung the cheese in a tall pot to drip for most of the day. The book says to let it drain for up to 12 hours, and recommends changing the bag (the butter muslin) once or twice to speed up the process.
I divided the cream cheese roughly in half, and then divided one half portion in two. I left the other full half plain, and flavored the two quarters thusly….
I used about 4 oz lox, several sprigs of dill (from the garden) and several chives (from the garden) in one batch.
And a day or two earlier I'd sauteed some onions and red bell pepper for something we had for dinner that night, and I had some of the onion/pepper mixture left, so I chopped up oh…maybe a quarter of a cup of that and blended that into the other quarter portion of the cream cheese.
All the cream cheeses went into the fridge to chill overnight.
I have to say, this was some yummy stuff. Definitely worth the search for a pasteurized cream source!