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Cream Cheese

13 hrs
5 mins
1/2 cup
Homemade Low Fat Cream Cheese Spread in a Bowl
Brent Hofacker / Alamy Stock Photo
13 hrs
5 mins
1/2 cup


  • cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional flavorings, like scallions, chives, jalapeños or smoked salmon

Chef notes

We’re in prime cheesecake and celebratory bagel season, only to be struck by a cream cheese shortage. The schmearpocalpse is due to a variety of supply chain issues, including a cyberattack that impacted the largest U.S. cheese manufacturer. From New York’s famed Zabar’s to the Junior’s Cheesecake chain and even Detroit pierogi makers, the spread is thinning for food purveyors — and striking fear and snark in the tweets of bagel lovers.

So far, cream cheese still appears to be available at grocery stores, but that could change at any moment. That’s why Kraft, the maker of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, went so far as to offer $20 to people who were willing not to make cheesecake during the holidays.

It’s time to learn how to make your own cream cheese, so you’re prepared just in case the grocery store shelves are empty. Who knows? Homemade cream cheese might just become your next obsession, like the sourdough or banana bread stage of pandemic-era cooking that came before it.

The good news? Homemade cream cheese is easy! And you probably won’t kill your cream cheese like you did your sourdough starter. If you have no idea where to start or don’t want to bother looking for cheesecloth, you can buy cream cheese starter kits like these from Williams-Sonoma or Amazon.

We consulted Jürgen David, director of Pastry Research and Development at the Institute of Culinary Education​ for his recipe and tips. The key, he says, is to "get the best milk and cream you can find — the fancier, the better!"

There are a variety of recipes out there, some of which call for cultures to help provide a more tangy, umami-flavored cream cheese or rennet (an animal enzyme) to separate the curds and whey. But if you are looking for something foolproof (and vegetarian), David shared a simple recipe that calls for just four easy-to-find ingredients. You’ll also need a pot, cheesecloth, a strainer, mixing bowl and stirring utensil. A thermometer may also be helpful to ensure you don’t burn the milk.

Note that you will have to plan ahead just a bit. While the active process is quick, the cheese does need to drain for 12 to 24 hours in order to give you the right consistency, so don’t start making your cream cheese right when you’re hankering for a bagel or ready to put together your cheesecake.



Make sure all utensils, pots, containers, cheesecloth and strainer are clean.


In a pot over medium heat, bring heavy cream and milk to 185-190 F. This will be a gentle simmer. Do not heat too quickly to avoid burning the milk.


Turn off the heat and add lemon juice (or vinegar). Stir gently.


Keep at room temperature, mixture will separate. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes.


Place strainer over mixing bowl, line with moistened cheesecloth and slowly pour milk mixture into the cheesecloth.


Let the mixture sit for 30 to 45 minutes so the whey (that is the liquid separating away) can begin to drain off.


Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and use a piece of kitchen twine to tie it up.


Suspend the cloth ball (try using a cabinet handle) and let slowly drain for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature.


Give the bundle a squeeze to remove any remaining excess whey.


Remove cream cheese from cheesecloth, add salt and optional flavorings, and mix.


Transfer to an airtight container and store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Note that the texture might be slightly different from store-bought cream cheese because those often contain gums and stabilizers. Make sure you thoroughly strain your cream cheese, and if you want a more whipped, spreadable consistency, you can use a hand mixer or food processor to help aerate it and smooth it out.

Now there’s no need to panic. Bagels, schmear and cheesecake for all!