Farmhouse Cream Cheese from 'Mastering Fermentation'

[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.

Reprinted with permission from Mastering Fermentation: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods by Mary Karlin. Copyright 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

Farmhouse Cream Cheese from 'Mastering Fermentation'

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About This Recipe

Yield:About 1 pound
Active time:30 minutes
Total time:About 24 hours
This recipe appears in: Farmhouse Cream Cheese from 'Mastering Fermentation'

Ingredients

  • 1 quart pasteurized whole, 2 percent, or 1 percent cow milk, at room temperature for 1 hour
  • 1 quart pasteurized heavy cream, at room temperature for 1 hour
  • 1/4 teaspoon mesophilic starter (preferably MA 4001)
  • 2 drops calcium chloride, diluted in 2 tablespoons cool nonchlorinated water
  • 3 drops rennet, diluted in 2 tablespoons cool nonchlorinated water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal)

Procedures

  1. 1

    Set up a water-bath system by nesting a 4-quart pot inside a 6-quart pot and pour water into the large pot to come about halfway up the side of the smaller pot. Remove the smaller pot and place the large pot over low heat. When the water reaches about 85 degrees, put the smaller pot back in the water to warm slightly, then pour the milk and cream into the smaller pot.

  2. 2

    Slowly heat the milk mixture to 75 degrees over low heat. This should take 10 to 15 minutes. Take the entire water bath off the heat.

  3. 3

    Sprinkle the starter over the milk and let it hydrate for 5 minutes. Whisk the starter into the milk, using an up-and-down motion to distribute thoroughly. Add the diluted calcium chloride and gently whisk in, using an up-and-down motion, for 1 minute, then add the rennet in the same way.

  4. 4

    Cover the smaller pot and leave in the water bath. Leave at room temperature until the curds are firm, about 12 hours. The milk protein will coagulate into solid curds; the liquid whey will be almost clear and light green in color.

  5. 5

    Line a strainer with dampened fine-weave butter muslin or cheesecloth, leaving excess cloth hanging over the sides of the strainer. Gently ladle the creamy curds into the prepared strainer. Tie the corners of the cloth together to create a draining sack, slip a wooden spoon handle through the knot, and hang over a deep cooking pot or bucket to drain until the desired consistency is achieved, 6 to 8 hours.

  6. 6

    Remove the curds from the sack, place in a bowl, and toss with the salt. Stir or knead to combine. Form into a brick or roll into a log, wrap with plastic wrap or store in a covered container, and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

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