August 28, 2013

Homemade Cream Cheese

Every time we drive by a house with a chicken coop, I remark to my husband, "They have chickens." This all started when I got the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter-What You Should and Shouldn't Cook From Scratch. Since my husband bought me the book, I don't think he can complain that I now want chickens. (The book doesn't necessarily advocate raising chickens as being a cost-effective measure for eggs or poultry, but still ...)

This book is an interesting read, as much a humorous auto-biography as a cookbook. And the recipes encourage you to go outside your comfort zone or at least give you the tools to do so. I think it's fascinating to see how some things, like cream cheese, can be made.

Cream cheese is incredibly easy to make and requires maybe 5 minutes of hands-on time total. It does involve mesophilic culture and liquid rennet, which likely aren't in the standard kitchen (or else my kitchen was lacking). New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. has them cheaper than Amazon, and I had my order within 2 days at most. A little will go a long way ... and can be used in other types of cheeses. (Next on my list is either mozzarella or mascarpone!)

The end result is slightly softer than regular cream cheese, which I view as a positive because it spreads perfectly and wouldn't need to sit on the counter for longer than my patience allows to "soften" before being used in recipes. The original recipe called for 1 tsp. salt, which I think is a bit much. Other than that, no complaints. (Makes fabulous beer dip, but then again, what wouldn't?)

Homemade Cream Cheese
1 quart whole milk (I used half skim milk as I ran out of whole milk.)
1 quart half-and-half
1/4 tsp. mesophilic culture
2 drops liquid rennet
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt

Make sure your cooking equipment is incredibly clean to ensure your cheese turns out well. Combine milk and half-and-half in a large pot, and heat it over very low heat to about 80˚F. (The idea is to take off the chill, not actually heat the liquid to make it warm.) Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the mseophilic culture over the liquid. To mix, gently lift a slotted spoon up and down beneath the surface of the milk to draw the cultures down and help them permeate the entire pot.

Add the rennet, and repeat the same motions to mix. Cover the pot, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Place a colander over a large bowl, and line the colander with cheesecloth. (I used a flour sack towel since I couldn't find cheesecloth in the local stores.) Gently ladle in the curd. Cover with a clean towel, and let it train for 8 hours or until the whey stops dripping out of the cheese. Stir in the salt to desired taste. Scoop the cheese into a container with a tight cover and store in the refrigerator.

Note: The whey (leftover liquid) can be used in baking bread. 

Makes 1 1/2 lbs. (Which I ate as beerless beer dip. I shared a bit with my lil' dude. Only a little bit. Amazing!)

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