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What Is Cream Cheese?

What Is Cream Cheese?

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The bagel’s longtime sidekick is white, mild, and spreadable. Cream cheese is a smooth, soft but firm cheese made from cow’s milk. Used on toast, muffins, and scones, this condiment turns any baked good into a tangy moist creation.

Who can we thank for this creamy breakfast spread? William Lawrence, a lover of dairy, mimicked France’s Neufchâtel cheese by adding more cream. He began selling his condiment in small, tin-foiled packages, hoping to be recognized in the city of Philadelphia. Soon after, a fellow cheesemaker convinced him to mass-produce his product under the Philadelphia brand name that is still seen on our shelves today.

Sharing its spotlight with soft cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese, cream cheese can be found in a variety of forms — from the diet-friendly "lite" versions to whipped. It’s also available in flavors with herbs, vegetables, or fruity mix-ins. Once opened, be aware that this delight is an odor sponge. So take care of your schmear by keeping it refrigerated and covered at all times.

Although many prefer it spooned onto an everything bagel, cream cheese is commonly spread on celery, used in dips, cheesecakes, and frostings. The versatility of cream cheese alone makes it an outstanding ingredient in any dish. When heated, this cheese melts and oozes, crowning itself as a perfect substitute for sour cream on some occasions.

So, if you get bored of plain cream cheese atop your morning nosh, revamp your style and use it as glue: sandwich some tomato and lox and you're good to go. Or step away from the traditional flavor and try something new.

Top 10 ways to use up leftover cream cheese

If your tub of cream cheese is about to turn, use up those last few spoonfuls in one of our recipes. Try it in a cake frosting, pasta sauce or melty fondue.

Versatile cream cheese is a fairly robust fridge product, but beyond that foil lid, those last few dollops can go from pure white to something altogether fungal in a short space of time. If you’re done with spreading it on sandwiches and bagels, try one of our leftover-friendly recipes.

True French Neufchâtel is an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) fresh cheese made from raw cow's milk that you would not find in the U.S., where cheese made from unpasteurized milk must be aged for at least 60 days. The cheese labeled as Neufchâtel that you find in similar packaging next to the cream cheese in U.S. grocery stores really does resemble American cream cheese more than its French namesake. This mass-produced Neufchâtel contains 23 percent milk fat vs. the 33 percent required by law for cream cheese. The two can almost always be used interchangeably.

To make cream cheese, producers start with fresh pasteurized cream or a combination of milk and cream, then add lactic acid bacteria to lower the pH, which causes curds to form. The whey gets drained, the curds get heated, and added stabilizers provide structure. Cream cheese is meant to be eaten fresh and does not require aging.

You can make cream cheese at home by adding salt and an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar to cream or milk, then straining the resulting curds and pureeing them in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Making Your Own Cream Cheese Is As Easy As Boil, Strain, Wait

The only thing better than a good recipe? When something's so easy to make that you don't even need one. Welcome to It's That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.

The schmear on our bagels, the cheese in our cake, the secret ingredient in our hot dips, and the best part of carrot cake.

I’m talking about cream cheese, of course.

Simply put, there is no substitute for cream cheese, though of course you can try. Mascarpone comes close, but is often too rich for the intended purposes. Ricotta is too grainy, cottage cheese is too curdy, strained yogurt is too tart, and if you choose to mix kefir with chia seeds, that’s your own business.

What I’m here to talk about is the joy of smooth, alabaster, luscious cream cheese. The white sneakers of the food world, it’s cozy, comfortable, and nostalgic, and no fridge should be without it. Yet as someone who eats half a toasted bagel with cream cheese each and every morning, sometimes I unexpectedly run out—and my day is ruined. On one such morning I thought to myself, “What if I never ran out?”

So I set to work developing a recipe. It worked on the first try so I tried four more times with the same dreamy, creamy results. (I also started making my own bagels, but that’s a story for another day.) And, to my great delight, DIY cream cheese takes only five minutes to prepare.

Here’s how to do it: In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup heavy cream (35%), 1 cup milk (2%), 1¼ cups 2% plain yogurt, and ½ tsp. kosher salt. Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk or cream, which will not curdle properly.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t boil over, for about 2 minutes. Add 3 Tbsp. white vinegar, bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, then lower heat to a simmer for 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and let mixture cool in the pot for an hour. The hard part is done!

Next, line a fine-mesh strainer with a clean cotton tea towel (or four layers of cheesecloth) and place it over a medium bowl. Pour the mixture into the lined strainer and cover with plastic wrap or a reusable silicone lid (don’t use a plate or something heavy or it will push out too much liquid). Place in the fridge to drain overnight.

Good morning! Discard the liquid from the bowl and spoon your gorgeous, tangy cream cheese off of the tea towel and into an airtight container, stirring until smooth. You’ll have about 1 cup, and it will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Feel like taking it to the next level? Make your own mixed herb cream cheese by stirring 2 Tbsp. chopped chives, 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley, 1 Tbsp. chopped basil, 1 tsp. lemon zest, and a pinch of sea salt and pepper into your drained fresh cream cheese. Or why not make your own veggie cream cheese? Stir in 4 small chopped green olives, 1 scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced, 2 Tbsp. finely chopped red pepper, 2 Tbsp. grated carrot, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Finally, try everything bagel schmear on for size: Stir in 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds, 1 Tbsp. dehydrated onion flakes, ½ Tbsp. poppy seeds, and ¼ tsp. garlic powder. Stir to combine and refrigerate for an hour to let the flavors meld before serving.

Can you imagine how impressed your friends will be when they find out you made homemade cream cheese? “Shut the front door!” they'll say. “Get out of town,” they'll shout. But it’s true, and the proof is in schmear.

Amy Rosen’s latest cookbook is Kosher Style, which features her recipes for bagels and cream cheese (along with 100 other modern Jewish recipes).

11 Cream Cheese Dinnertime Recipes That Spread Good Flavor

Who says cream cheese is just for dips and desserts? Here’s a delicious collection of cream cheese dinnertime recipes perfect for any night of the week. From casseroles to pasta to meat entrées, these easy cream cheese recipes are great for potlucks, family meals and general entertaining. Show off your love of the mild, soft and slightly sweet cheese with any of these 11 cream cheese dinnertime recipes.

1. Creamy Pasta with Spinach

This Creamy Pasta with Spinach is perfect to serve to a dinnertime party crowd. This meatless entrée combines cream cheese with tomato, spinach and pasta for a simple dish that will wow.

2. Roasted Pork Tenderloin Supper

This Roasted Pork Tenderloin Supper is paired with two sides and drizzled with a creamy Neufchatel cheese sauce. This delicious supper will please the whole family.

3. Creamy Corn & Turkey Soup

This Creamy Corn & Turkey Soup recipe doubles up on the creamy ingredients. Cream-style corn plus cream cheese give this hearty soup a wonderful texture.

4. Chicken in Creamy Pan Sauce

Chicken in Creamy Pan Sauce is a quick and easy dish to make. Top off the recipe with either a spinach-bacon or tomato-basil combo for even more flavor.

5. Salmon in 20 Minutes

Prepare this Salmon in 20 Minutes dish for a better-for-you recipe that’s ready in no time. Our salmon dish features dill, cream cheese, cucumber and is served on top of rice.

6. Creamy Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

Turn an Italian-style dish into a delicious casserole with our Creamy Eggplant Parmesan Casserole. Loaded with three types of cheese, this creamy dish is sure to become a family favorite.

7. Potato-Topped Muffin Tin Meatloaf

Have “muffins” at dinnertime with this Potato-Topped Muffin Tin Meatloaf recipe. Mini meatloaves are topped with mashed potatoes mixed with garlic, parsley and, of course, cream cheese.

8. Tex-Mex Beef & Rice Casserole

This flavorful Tex-Mex Beef & Rice Casserole will be a hit at dinnertime. With beef, cheese and rice, what’s not to love in this loaded casserole dish?

9. Buffalo Chicken Empanadas

Buffalo Chicken Empanadas turn your favorite party recipe into an equally yummy handheld snack. Filled with chicken, cream cheese, buffalo wing sauce and blue cheese dressing, these empanadas are tasty.

10. Creamy Shrimp Alfredo

This Creamy Shrimp Alfredo is ready in under a half hour. The classic dish adds a hint of balsamic vinaigrette to the creamy Alfredo sauce to enhance the flavor.

11. Spicy Sweet Potato and Kale Pasta Bake

This Spicy Sweet Potato and Kale Pasta Bake delivers sweet heat. The dish adds a creamy kick of flavor with pepper jack and cream cheese. Add a fresh finishing touch with chopped parsley.

Gooey and great, cream cheese adds delicious flavor to whatever dish you make. These easy cream cheese recipes show just how versatile the ingredient is. Delight friends and family when you make one of our delectable cream cheese dinnertime recipes.

Using Whipped Cream Cheese in Recipes

Are regular cream cheese and whipped cream cheese interchangeable in recipes?

Many of us are as likely to have tubs of whipped cream cheese in our refrigerators as the more traditional blocks. To find out if the two are interchangeable, we used both types (measured by weight) in our Foolproof New York Cheesecake (see related content) and in cream cheese frosting.

Though some tasters found the frosting made with whipped cream cheese slightly less tangy than the one made with block cream cheese, all found it acceptable. In fact, it had a lighter, smoother texture that many preferred. The cheesecake was another story. While both cakes looked the part, the one made with whipped cream cheese had an unacceptably granular and slightly wet consistency in comparison with the dense, creamy texture of the one made with block cream cheese.

These differences can be explained by the manufacturing process. Block cream cheese is made by adding a cheese culture to milk and cream, which causes the proteins to coagulate slowly and produces a rich, smooth mass. Whipped cream cheese is coagulated with lactic acid, a process that is quicker (and less expensive). It forms a tight network of small, dense protein particles, which gives the cheese a grainier texture. But because the cheese is whipped, this graininess isn’t very noticeable when eaten as is or when used in uncooked applications like frosting (additives also help it maintain that lighter, spreadable consistency). But when baked, the tight networks will tighten up even more and expel water. Hence, a cheesecake that is grainy and watery. And finally, a test using our pH meter confirmed why the whipped cheese tasted less tangy than the block style: The whipped product has a higher pH, an indicator that it contains less lactic acid, a result of being coagulated much more quickly.

THE BOTTOM LINE: In recipes for which cream cheese is cooked, we recommend sticking with the traditional block. In cases where it is not heated, the whipped product is acceptable provided you substitute by weight.

TAKES THE CAKE: Block cream cheese makes luxuriously creamy, dense cheesecake.

GOT WHIPPED: The whipped product produced grainy, wet results.

11 Ways to Use Cream Cheese

Did you know that the bagel spread is also the secret to fantastic homemade ice cream? Here are 11 less expected ways to use cream cheese.

We all know cream cheese makes a stellar artichoke or onion dip and a sweet-tangy frosting (not to mention the perfect cheesecake). But did you know that the bagel spread is also the secret to fantastic homemade ice cream? Here are 11 less expected ways to use cream cheese.

1. Miso spread. Cover a block of cream cheese with miso and cure it for a few days for an exceptional and unusual two-ingredient spread.

2. With sardines. Blend cream cheese with jalapeños and serve on crackers topped with sardines and green olives for a retro-fabulous hors d’oeuvre.

3. Soup. Make pureed soups—such as this broccoli one𠅋oth creamy and tangy by adding a bit of cream cheese.

4. Mac and cheese. Scatter cubes of cream cheese on top of your mac and cheese before baking to make it extra luscious.

5. Moussaka. Use cream cheese as a bຜhamel shortcut when making this classic Greek casserole.

6. Pasta sauce. Toss cream cheese with hot pasta to make an instant cream sauce.

7. Crêpe filling. Spread cream cheese on these thin French pancakes and top with smoked salmon and spinach salad. Or go sweet, and top with jam instead.

8. Pastry dough. Use cream cheese in an easy dough for strudel, a gluten-free pie dough or a versatile tart crust.

9. Brownies Blend cream cheese with an egg yolk and sugar to swirl on top of brownies before baking.

10. Puff pastry filling. Stuff cream cheese and some guava paste into store-bought puff pastry for an insanely delicious quick-prep dessert.

11. Ice cream. Use just a little cream cheese to give homemade ice cream extra bite.

Why Make Homemade Cream Cheese

Whether it's curiosity that brings you here or a desire to hone some culinary skills, there's no denying that making it homemade makes all the difference.

Cream cheese is fantastic spread on crackers and bread, or as a base for dips, cheesecake, or frosting. If you're just getting started making cheese at home, cream cheese is a great option for beginners. Making homemade cream cheese also gives you control over the ingredients in the foods your family eats.

11+ Things You Can Add to Cream Cheese for an Instant Appetizer

I can’t pinpoint exactly when my cream cheese obsession began, but I do know it was in fairly early childhood. I think it may have started at one of my parents’ cocktail parties. And if I remember anything about that time in my youth, it’s that my parents knew how to put out a spread of party snacks. There were nuts, and olives. There were tiny sandwiches. Sometimes there was pâté. There was even shrimp cocktail! And clearly, the most interesting to my young mind and palate, things stuffed with, spread with, and covered with cream cheese.

Soft. Tangy. A little salty. I was mesmerized.

Now what exactly IS cream cheese? It is, very simply, a fresh cheese much like whole milk ricotta that is drained of its whey, and whipped or processed until smooth, with some cream. And it is actually fairly easy to make at home! Try it. I think you’ll be shocked at how simple and how delicious it is. And, it won’t have any of the stabilizers or gums found in most commercial cream cheese. (That said, you can now find 𠇏resh” cream cheese without stabilizers in some grocery stores.)

Whether homemade or store bought, one universal truth remains certain: Cream cheese is so incredibly adaptable, making it the perfect starting point for infinite easy appetizers. Virtually any herbs or spices (and even some vegetables) can be folded into a block of softened cream cheese to make something even more exciting.

  • For topping bagels or serving with bagel chips, try mixing in poppyseeds, scallions, chives, VERY finely minced carrots and celery, and even 𠇎verything” bagel seasoning.
  • Create a simple hors d&aposoeuvre using smoked turkey rolled with cream cheese that’s been flavored with minced sage.
  • To stuff cherry tomatoes, chiffonade some basil and stir it on in.
  • To serve with sliced beef, try adding grated fresh or bottled horseradish to the cream cheese. Better yet, pile the beef and your upgraded cream cheese onto slider buns.
  • Use long very thin strips of cucumber to roll around a fresh dill-filled cream cheese. Or, if that’s too fussy, slice rounds of cucumber and simply top with the cream cheese. A small sprig of dill on top of each is a lovely garnish.
  • Pit dates and fill them with cream cheese—plain or seasoned with a touch of rosemary.
  • Finely chop smoked salmon and fold it in, with some dill and lemon zest if you have it, to make a party-perfect spread for crackers.
  • I really love finely minced Spanish chorizo and smoked paprika mixed into cream cheese for a flavor-packed, low effort spread. But fair warning, these ingredients do turn the cheese an alarmingly pink color!
  • Stir in capers for a salty pop that pairs well with all sorts of dipping vehicles, from toasts to crudite!
  • Like cucumbers, radishes and cream cheese are a beautiful match. You can mince radish and mix it into the cream cheese or top sliced radishes with cream cheese, seasoned as you like!
  • Let’s not forget fruit. Swirl fruit preserves of your choosing into softened cream cheese for a decadent sweet spread or layer cream cheese into hulled strawberries or onto toasted baguette with fresh peach slices.

Obviously, this list is just a small glimpse at the possibilities cream cheese offers, especially when it comes to easy entertaining. But use it as a jumping off point for your own creations. Is cream cheese on its own as complex as Manchego, or Roquefort, or Gruyere? No. But with a little imagination, you may find that its versatility makes cream cheese the party cheese.

Super Easy Homemade Cream Cheese

If I’d know how simple it was to make DIY cream cheese, I would have been making it months (if not years!) ago. Somehow I’ve managed to go through DIY’s for DIY Homemade Ricotta Cheese and DIY: Homemade Herb Butter ( Compound butter) without trying this simple cream cheese method, which is actually a bit of in-between method of both of them.

In fact, I’m still being surprised at just how many ingredients you can make/get from a single dairy product. Cream cheese, cheese, butter, buttermilk, whey and more.

Smooth and creamy soft cheese only requires three ingredients, that you probably already have Whole Milk, Lemon Juice and Salt. It can also be customised in any way you’d like – with herbs, pepper, sweet chilli, etc or used for a variety of sweet or savoury purposes.

You are able to experiment with the milk used as well: Combining milk and cream in equal parts instead of just using milk, or even using heavy cream alone. Obviously the more cream you use, the richer and ‘creamier’ your final product. However, it would also up the fat levels.

I thought I’d keep things super simple for the first time trying homemade cream cheese and I loved it so much that I didn’t feel the need to complicate or change the recipe in any way.

I have seen recipes for cream cheese using liquid rennet, a cheese culture/starter and more potentially confusing and unobtainable ingredients and that is definitely not ‘my jam’. This is a recipe anyone can do and then can go crazy experimenting with, if desired.

Why make your own cream cheese?

I know that’s probably a question that some of you are asking, and I actually have the perfect answer. Because homemade cream cheese is SO much better – and I’m not just saying that.

I’m not just talking about taste and texture either. Now, obviously I haven’t tried EVERY cream cheese out there – but last time I was at the store I decided to have a look at the ingredients list of some of the biggest brands of cream cheese here in the UK.

What I found was ‘E’ ingredients, gums and thickeners including the controversial carrageenan! Homemade cream cheese simply uses lemon juice, milk and salt and is still wonderfully smooth and creamy.

How to Make Cream Cheese:

As I said above, the method for making cream cheese is actually very similar to making ricotta Heat your milk, add a coagulant, leave to curdle, drain and blend!

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but you get the gist.

What’s needed:

  • full-fat milk – it’s important to use full-fat milk because of its fat content.
  • lemon
  • salt
  • optional add-ons – dried herbs, garlic powder, dried chillies

Note* You could alternatively use half whole milk and half heavy cream OR completely use whole cream for soft cheese that is richer/creamier (but with a higher fat content)

You will also need a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve

The Steps:

Begin by pouring the milk in a saucepan. Heat the milk and bring it to boil over medium-high heat.

As soon as it boils, add the lemon juice and then turn off the heat.

Set aside for a few minutes while the milk curdles. You’ll notice curds forming and a yellow-ish liquid being left behind.

Within a few minutes, all of your curds should have formed. Pour the curdled milk through a cheesecloth and a sieve to strain all the liquid whey.

Alternatively, you can use a slotted spoon to scoop out all the curdles, while leaving the liquid whey in the pot.

Note* This leftover whey can then be used in a variety of ways. I’ve talked about this more in my DIY How To Make Paneer At Home post.

Rinse the curdled milk with cold water by pouring the water over the sieve. This will help to get rid of any extra whey, clinging to the curds.

Put the strained milk into a food processor/blender and add the salt.

Within 1-2 minutes (this may vary, depending on how powerful your machine is) you’ll have a light and fluffy cream cheese.

If you want to add any additional herbs/flavourings, then do that now too. Be warned though as certain additional ingredients will affect the shelf-life of the cheese. I like dried herbs and garlic powder as natural flavourings that don’t affect the shelf life too much.

Store the cream cheese in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. You can freeze cream cheese, but the texture upon thawing is more crumbly and is best used when you’re cooking it into something like a dip or sauce.

How to eat it?

Once your cheese is ready, then it can be used the same way you would with the store-bought version:

Now that you know those two things, we can begin the tutorial for How to turn greek yogurt into &ldquocream cheese&rdquo :

Learn how to substitute greek yogurt for cream cheese in all of your favorite recipes. Make &ldquocream cheese&rdquo from greek yogurt with this simple tutorial.


  • medium glass bowl
  • large spoon
  • mesh strainer
  • greek yogurt
  • coffee filter or cheese cloth
  • refrigerator
  • tupperware type container


    1. Make sure that your refrigerator is free of any funky smells before you begin as the greek yogurt will absorb those smells to develop a funky taste, if you do not take this step. If unsure how to do that, try using my fridge deodorizing tutorial, found here.
    2. Allow approximately twelve hours between when you make your "greek yogurt" and when you actually need it.
    3. Prepare an empty space in your refrigerator that is large enough for a medium-sized glass bowl.
    4. Using a medium sized glass bowl, add a mesh strainer to the top of the bowl. Make sure that it allows 2 to 4 inches of clearance between the bottom of the strainer and the bottom of the bowl.
    5. Place a coffee filter or cheese cloth in the bottom of the strainer.
    6. Scoop your greek yogurt into the coffee filter/cheese cloth inside the mesh strainer.
    7. Cover greek yogurt with a coffee filter or cheese cloth (to prevent drying and texture issues).
    8. Place inside refrigerator for approximately 12 hours allowing the excess whey to drop into the bottom of the bowl, below the mesh strainer.
    9. When the yogurt has become a "cream cheese" texture, you are ready to remove it from the refrigerator.
    10. Scoop the remaining "cream cheese" into sealed rubbermaid type containers and refrigerate until ready for use.
    11. This thickened yogurt can now replace cream cheese in almost any recipe.


    If you are cooking something that will need you to add the yogurt to a hot dish, make sure that you use the yogurt "cream cheese" at room temperature, which will reduce clotting and give the best results with texture.

    Any remaining whey can be added to other recipes to add a bit of protein, or could be composted.

    Please Note: Approximately 2/3rd's of a 32 oz container of yogurt will fit into a single standard sized coffee filter.

    Also, one 32 oz container of plain greek yogurt makes about 2.5 cups "cream cheese".

    If you&rsquore needing to make several cream cheese dishes in the morning, just do this the night before. It takes just a couple of minutes of prep and you&rsquoll be good to go.

    If you need to use it right away, that&rsquos great. It&rsquos ready to use and should swap out cup for cup in your cream cheese recipes.

    Those of you that have worked with dairy products are probably thinking &ldquoyeah, this is common sense&rdquo, but for those of you that don&rsquot have any experience working with cheese cloth for its intended purpose, you are probably thinking &ldquoWow, that&rsquos pretty handy. There are so many recipes that this information would be useful for&rdquo&hellip yes I&rsquom putting words in your mouth but hey&hellip I think it&rsquos been pretty handy to know.

    I figured out how to do this years ago when I posted my Mom&rsquos Favorite Cheeseball, Now Made With Greek Yogurt recipe&hellipa must for your holiday celebrations by the way, and decided that this method of &ldquocream cheese&rdquo prep needed a tutorial all on its own.

    If you are trying to trick your family into eating this instead of regular cream cheese, you could always use a box from regular cream cheese and put some plastic wrap inside and then mold the greek yogurt stuff into it then cover and chill&helliplol.

    I&rsquom always sneaking healthier ingredients into my family&rsquos diet so that is what I would do if they were being super pick about it. Hee hee&hellipjust ask my dad, I made him a meal recently and waited until he was on his seconds to ask him if he could tell that it was brown rice pasta instead of regular pasta and he couldn&rsquot tell a difference.

    A great use for this, that you may not have thought of, is to mix a little with some of your favorite flavored jelly to make a delicious protein packed schmear for that morning bagel. It&rsquos also the perfect texture for most dip recipes too, and I have even had success swapping it out in my baking/cooking recipes too.

    What do you think? Did you try it? Did you like it? Any money saving suggestions on how to make it even more frugally?

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog! Please make share this post with any of your Greek Yogurt loving friends and family via social media. Hoping you have some happy and healthier parties in your future!

    Oh, don&rsquot forget to subscribe to my email list (found here). Also, if you would like to learn how to follow along or really show your support for this blog, go here.