Cook the Book

Farmhouse Cream Cheese from 'Mastering Fermentation'

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[Photograph: Ed Anderson]

If you have never made your own cream cheese, this week is the week to start. And you should do so with Mary Karlin's recipe in Mastering Fermentation. Made with a one-to-one ratio of cream to whole milk, this creamy spread is unabashedly rich and totally worth every bite.

Cream cheese is super easy to make, too. There's no need to worry about cooking curds or setting up an aging chamber; all you need to do is heat the dairy up, add culture, rennet, and calcium chloride (for reliable texture), and let it incubate overnight. Then you only have half a day of draining between you and cream cheese bliss. Eat it on a bagel if you can wait for your toaster to heat up, or else lick it just straight off a spoon. I won't tell.

Why I picked this recipe: There was no way homemade cream cheese wasn't going to be awesome.

What worked: In terms of cheese making projects, this is a simple one, and it worked pretty much as written. The final product was wonderful, as expected. Rich, creamy, tangy, this cheese is basically crème fraîche you can slather on bagels, or else ice cream you can eat for breakfast.

What didn't: I'm not a huge fan of draining cheese in a cheesecloth sack for the entire draining period because some of the whey inevitably gets stuck in the center of the curds. It's hard to tell what the actual consistency of the cheese is until you take it down and stir in the salt. I'd prefer to drain most of the whey out in a cheesecloth- or muslin-lined colander (you can stir it around a bit this way too) before hanging it up for the last few hours to firm up.

Suggested tweaks: If you don't want as rich a cream cheese, you can use a higher proportion of milk to cream. And if you don't want to shell out for butter muslin, you can use a few layers of cheesecloth instead. If you want to make the cheese totally vegetarian, you can also use vegetarian rennet in place of the traditional animal product. (Read the label to make sure you can substitute it at a one-to-one ratio; some vegetable rennets are more or less concentrated than others.) I ordered my cheese cultures, rennet, and calcium chloride from New England Cheesemaking, but there are also other good Internet resources for supplies. Be sure you order direct-set cultures (usually labeled D.S.). All of these supplies will make a ton of cheese, and will keep for a long time if stored properly.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Mastering Fermentation to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area BitesBerkeleyside NOSH. Follow her @KateHWiliams.

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