How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese

Making homemade cream cheese can be done. You only need half and half and a special culture that is sold in stores.

Homemade cream cheese on whole wheat bread with herbs

I love cream cheese; it has been the salvation of many of my favorite meals. Making homemade cream cheese came about because one year I decided to cook a dish every week that included one specific ingredient, and for that ingredient, I chose cream cheese. When I announced my intentions on Twitter, I got a reply back from Michael Ruhlman, who constantly asks us to cook our own food. (I made my own bacon after seeing his demo at the Blogher Food conference.) So I was inspired to look up how to make cream cheese.

You may ask, why would you make your own cream cheese? Basically, you don’t do it because it is more economical. However, I have personally jumped onto an organic kick, and I try to substitute organic products where I can. Organic cream cheese is expensive, but making your own from scratch isn’t quite as pricy. The real reason I make my own cream cheese is that I enjoy crafting my own cheese. It isn’t hard – it’s pretty easy to tell you the truth. What I really like is that I get a wonderful homemade organic cream cheese that tastes rich and tangy.

A lot of homemade fresh cheeses – that is, cheeses that don’t have to be aged – you can make at home. Often it is simply a matter of adding some lemon juice to some milk and letting the milk sit on the counter for 12 to 24 hours – voila, homemade ricotta! Leave the curds to grow a little more, and you have farmer’s cheese. This type of cheese is wonderful for breakfast – spread some on some toast, and you have a really tasty start to your day.

For your adventure into making homemade cream cheese, you do need some supplies. I recommend purchasing some butter cloth (also called butter muslin), which has a finer weave than cheesecloth, to drain the whey from the cheese. Or you could use a flour sack towel. You will need a lot of half-and-half. And you will need some Mesophilic culture, which is a mix of different bacteria and enzymes – I don’t know of any substitute for this for making homemade cream cheese. One packet of culture will set up to two gallons of half and half, but I tried it out using just one quart. So, you can use up to 2 gallons of half and half for this recipe, or, like me, you can use just one quart.

I am not the only one who loves making their own homemade cream cheese. Check out these lovely folks!

Making Cream Cheese So Easy a Child Could Do It
Two Ways to Make Cream Cheese

You can use up to 2 gallons of half and half for this recipe, or if you are like me, I am going to use 1 quart, but you this culture will set up to 2 gallons of milk.

Homemade Cream Cheese

Yield: 8 – 10 ounces of cream cheese
1 quart light cream or half and half
1 package Mesophilic  culture
Butter cloth

half and half, cheese culture, and dish

Allow your half and half to reach room temperature, your cheese will set more quickly if it isn’t refrigerator chilled when you add the starter culture.

cream cheese preparation

Add your half and half to your container, I like to use a flat baking dish to make mine, I am sure technically there is no real difference in how long it will take your cheese to set, but for me, I like to do this in a flat container.

a packet of cheese culture
Add your culture to the milk, sprinkling it over the top. I let this sit for about two minutes before I stir in the culture and mix it up really well.

adding culture to milk and stirring
Next, I simply place some plastic wrap over the top of the dish and let it set on my counter anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. While my pets would never climb on top of a countertop and see what is there, I like a little extra insurance from flying objects to land in my cream cheese.

letting the cheese set
When the cream cheese is set, it will have the texture of yogurt. It will appear to you that the whole process isn’t going to work, but here is where you wait and be patient, it really takes about 10 – 12 hours for the cream cheese to set in a cooler house, so be patient. Here is what mine looked like 10 hours after setting. When it is thick like this, you can start to drain the whey out of it.

cream cheese after it has set for 12 hours
I take the butter cloth, and make a small sling over the top of the pot, using the handles to secure the cloth. I then add my soft cream cheese into the cloth and let the whey drain out of it.

Drain the whey from the cream cheese

You can let the whey drain out for up to 12 hours. Then you have some delightful cream cheese you can package into smaller containers. You might like to stir in some herbs or even some jam for a nice treat for breakfast.

I was really amazed at how easy it was to make homemade cream cheese. This would be a fantastic project for kids, there is very little measuring. I have not tried making this recipe with milk, skim milk or anything else, so I can’t speak to if that would work for those types of milk products. What I really liked was I got to make a wonderful organic cream cheese that tastes rich and tangy.

Can I make cheese with yogurt or buttermilk?

Yes. Yes, you can. Here is why I don’t entirely recommend it for the novice. Actually, you can try to make it with the ambient bacteria in the air, it could turn out, most likely it will fail. This is how it was originally discovered thousands of years ago. Over time our ancestors realized you could reproduce it by using whey as a starter and they would get more dependable results.

I personally think if you are trying this for the first time you should spring a couple of bucks for culture and get dependable results. I looked up the bacteria that are in both mesophilic culture and buttermilk. They are as follows.

Mesophillic culture may contain lactose, lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris

Buttermilk may contain lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.

Yes, there is some overlap. As you can see they are not the same, so sure you will produce a type of cream cheese but isn’t the recipe that I am sharing.

homemade cream cheese in a bowl and on crostini

Use homemade cream cheese in these recipes:

Cream Cheese Wontons

Panera Bread Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Spread

Strawberry Cream Cheese

Also, learn how to make Yogurt Cheese too.

Homemade cream cheese on whole wheat bread with herbs

Homemade Cream Cheese

You can make cream cheese from scratch. 
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cheese Recipes
Servings: 1
Calories: 2461kcal


  • 2 quarts half and half
  • 1 package mesophelic culture


  • Allow your half and half to reach room temperature, your cheese will set more quickly if it isn’t refrigerator chilled when you add the starter culture.
  • Pour half and half into a large flat container, like a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  • Sprinkle Mesophilic culture into half and half. Wait about two minutes for the culture to bloom, then stir in the culture.
  • Seal the baking dish with plastic wrap. Leave the milk mixture outside on the countertop for about 8 to 12 hours, or until it begins to set up.
  • The cream cheese has set up properly when it has the consistency of Greek yogurt.
  • You will want to fold over the butter cloth so there are fabric is double layered. Place the soft cheese into the butter cloth and hang the butter cloth so the whey drains out.
  • It may take up to 12 hours for the whey to drain out.
  • Store the cream cheese in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Recipe Tips for the Cook



Calories: 2461kcal | Carbohydrates: 81g | Protein: 56g | Fat: 218g | Saturated Fat: 135g | Cholesterol: 700mg | Sodium: 776mg | Potassium: 2461mg | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 6700IU | Vitamin C: 17mg | Calcium: 1987mg | Iron: 1.3mg
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About Stephanie

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Connie

    Hi. Do you strain the cream cheese inside the refrigerator or on the counter top? How do you get milk that is not uht? Ca not wait to make our recipe for cream cheese. Love the pictures – very helpful.

    • stephaniemanley

      I strain mine out on the counter. It could work in the fridge as well. I often find the less expensive brands of milk are not UHT, so they will work as well.

  2. Sarah

    How does it taste in comparison with store bought cream cheese? I just tried making cream cheese from a different recipe that used 4 cups half and half and 1 cup whipping cream (in cream form, of course… not whipped). And then I used buttermilk as the mesophilic culture. I found that it didn’t have the cream cheese taste at all, and I could tell it had whipping cream in it. I want to try your recipe, but I don’t want to be wasting my time if I’ll never get the taste of the store bought cream cheese. I don’t know what makes it taste the way it does. I just loooooooove store bought cream cheese!

    • stephaniemanley

      Does it taste like philly brand cream cheese, no. It’s pretty good though, I like it fairly well. It comes close to the store bought cheese.

      • Ashley Teixeira

        How close? Id like to make my own to use with cheesecake but not sure how itd work

      • Terri Hamilton

        I made some had couple mishaps with cheesecloth but I love love cream cheese When , was pregnant with my daughter 44yrs ago I craved it Peeled foil back ate it like a candy bar But I thought it tasted remarkably close I was surprised how much mine and Philadelphia tasted the same Hers sounds so much better But totally agree with buying the culture I’ve had to many mistakes with trying to make cheese by not using whats really needed We have nowhere to buy it I get mine cheese making supplys from Amazon I found they was most reasonable priced One thing I’ve learned you’ll always get something you can use you’ll never waste your milk Might be lotta ricotta but I’ve sure ended up with lots Some have been amazing because of my mishaps Shes right try it especially at my store a brick is $3 You’ll get alot more I added a bit of lemon juice to one of mine Made fabulous cheese cake

  3. NikL

    Do you know if this will work with lactose-free milk? I can’t stand soy cream cheese (shudder) and no matter how much Lactaid I take, items with cream cheese still really upset my stomach. I’ve found lactose-free yogurt (which is very good) but no cream cheese, so I thought I’d try making my own. Think it would work?

    • Julie

      Cheese making, as well as yogurt making, involves cultures that convert the lactose in milk into lactic acid. If you let the cheese sit long enough before draining you will achieve a cheese with little to none lactose in its final form. Hope this helps!

  4. Michelle Manske

    First of all you need to make sure your readers know that the type of mesophilic bacteria you used has rennet already in it! This recipe will not work unless you use rennet and most mesophilic bacteria does not come preequiped with rennet! You can easily substitute BUTTERMILK for the mesophilic bacteria. use about an 1/8 cup cultured buttermilk for each gallon of half and half and 1/2 of a tablet of Rennet dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water. You also should be using anything but ULTRA pastorized milk or half and half you are using a product that has nothing live left in it so you get a subpar at best result! It makes a big difference when you use the correct ingredients.

    • stephaniemanley

      I have found decent results with using the ultra pasteurized milk before. I also do not use rennet in making this cream cheese. I followed the guidelines as listed from, and reading up on my old Readers Digest Back to Basics book. So I feel comfortable with the cream cheese made without rennet.

      Some brands of cream cheese do contain rennet. Not all brands of cream cheese contain rennet. It is not necessary for cream cheese to contain rennet.

      Typically rennet is used in cheeses that are aged for a longer amount of time, and not always used in softer cheeses.

      I like mesophillic culture it produces a blend cream cheese, it contains the following bacteria lactose, lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris

      Buttermilk may contain lactose, (LL) lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, (LLC) lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, (LLD) lactococcus lactis subsp. biovar diacetylactis, (LMC) leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris.

      Yes, there is some over lap. As you can see they are not the same.

      Sure, you can use buttermilk and yogurt, but you don’t know what culture the producer used to prepare his buttermilk or yogurt from. You also don’t really know how fresh it is, and if something is going to turn off. It may work, I will give you that. Why I like to start from a starting culture is that you know what is in your culture, and it isn’t a mystery. You will get known results.

      Do I get that using other ways will work, yes. Do I recommend this to someone who has never made this before, no.

  5. Bobby

    question, if my first attempt at cream cheese came out not as smooth as i would have liked and not crumbly but somwehat slightly crumbled, does that mean to much whey drained out of it?

  6. Jean

    I”m puzzled. If you leave liquid pre-cheese dairy product on your kitchen counter (I mean, your milk/culture that is ripening into cream cheese), it can also attract bacteria in the air that you don’t want, and that can in fact make you ill. How do you prevent this? I once had home-made farmers’ cheese, and had a really severe case of food poisoning. I suppose that covering the ripening mass with plastic wrap and then refrigerating will prevent this, but then, will the mixture ripen? You mention letting it sit our on your kitchen counter for 10-12 hours. That’s the worrisome step.

    • Stephanie Manley

      You can add a little if you like. I will add a little cheese salt, or pickling salt, both are a finer grain than regular table salt.

    • Anonymous

      Honestly, I am not not aware of the differences between to two mesophillic strains. I would guess there are some slight variations in the flavor between the two. I have not made any purchases from leeners to know what theirs would be like.

    • Laura Hagan

      try using raw milk. I have a friend..her daughter goes into anaphylatic shock with dairy…especially store bought milk & cheese…however her daughter can have raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk

    • Katie Kearns

      The bacteria eat the lactose — homemade cream cheese (and yogurt) end up nearly lactose free, if you leave it out long enough. :> That’s why I started making it. 🙂

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