When you think of cream cheese, you think of the soft, fresh-tasting, mild taste with a slight tang of a white cheese that you use for pastries, pizza, mashed potatoes, chicken, pork, beef, and fish dishes, vegetable dishes, desserts, sauces or dips, and different kinds of food. Cream cheese was said to have been invented in the 1870s by an American dairyman William Lawrence, although there are French references to cream cheese as early as the 1600s. However, the commercial cream cheese became popular with the introduction of the Philadelphia brand in 1880, which was eventually bought by Kraft Foods. Today it is still the most renowned brand of cream cheese in the United States.
Cream cheese is made from pure cream or a combination of milk and cream. Unlike other kinds of cheese it has a mildly acidic flavor and a smooth buttery consistency that has a short shelf life even when it is refrigerated. Traditionally, the procedure of making cream cheese is to pasteurize, homogenize, and coagulate the cream mixture using a lactic bacterial culture. Some manufacturers use stabilizers to achieve the desired consistency, as the high fat content in the form of minute fat globules is prone to separate. The procedure sounds complicated, but you can actually create your own cream cheese using just a few ingredients and simple materials found in your kitchen.
- Prepare your ingredients: one gallon of milk whether cows or goats’ milk, ½ teaspoon of mesophilic culture, two tablespoons of diluted rennet. Mesophilic is a cheese culture which is actually composed of bacteria specimens required for production of cheese, as it will determine its taste, smell and texture. Mesophilic is ideal for fresh cheeses and contains lactococcus lactis, cremoris, biovar, and diacetylactis. Rennet on the other hand is an enzyme that usually comes from the stomach of a young cow, goat or sheep. Rennet causes the protein components in milk to curd and separates the liquid components. Both mesophilic and diluted rennet can be readily purchased in the market, although you can also create your own.
- Pour the one gallon of milk into the double boiler and heat until it reaches 80 degrees.
- Remove from heat but keep the heated milk in the double boiler. Add in the half teaspoon of mesophilic culture and stir for a minute, followed with two tablespoons of diluted rennet. Stir well then cover the pot. Leave the mixture, which will create a thick yogurt after 18 hours at room temperature.
- Prepare the strainer and a clean cloth where you are to pour the yogurt. Pour the yogurt into the cloth, tie the ends together and hang to drain over a bowl. The longer you drain the yogurt, the more solid the cream cheese gets.
- When it stops dripping, put the curds into a bowl and add a little salt, garlic, or herbs depending on your taste preference. Place the cheese in a container and refrigerate.
Your cream cheese can be eaten alone or used as a spread or partner to your favorite foods. You can develop other methods in preparing your cream cheese and make it sort of an Italian or European style depending on the ingredients you wish to incorporate. Match cheese and wine with your favorite dish and you have a perfect gourmet delight!