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How to Make Your Own Cream Cheese and Save Cash

A few bagels along side a bagel with homemade creamcheese.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Food prices continue to soar nationwide, and some stores are still having trouble keeping their shelves stocked. If your family eats a lot of cream cheese, but you’re tired of hunting it down and paying the big bucks, why not make it yourself and save time and cash?

With just a few ingredients and tools you probably already have, you can have some freshly made cream cheese for those bagels in no time.

Why Is Cream Cheese So Expensive?

Eight ounces of cream cheese with several bagels around it.
Emilee Unterkoefler

According to the USDA, food prices have gone up 8% since January 2021, and we can blame the pandemic. Of course, the labor shortages, gas price hikes, and supply chain issues also haven’t helped.

To top it all off, Schreiber Foods, one of the largest cheese manufacturers in the United States, had to shut down in October 2021 due to a cyber attack.

As a result of all this, cream cheese lovers have noticed that it’s gotten even more pricey than usual. Luckily, the plant is now back up and running, but demand continues to be high—after all, is there anything worse than a schmearless bagel?

If you need your cream cheese, but don’t want to pay the sky-high prices, we have some good news: it’s actually super easy to make. With just a few ingredients and kitchen tools, you can whip up a batch in about 15 minutes.

All you have to do is warm up some full-fat milk, add an acidic to curdle (turn the liquid into a solid) it, and you’re done!

Before you get started, though, you’ll need to gather a few supplies.

What You’ll Need

Three products recommended in the article including a Cuisinart set of three fine-mesh strainers, a SCENG cheesecloth and a Cuisinart food processor.
Cuisinart/SCENG

The process of making cream cheese is pretty straightforward, but when you have the right tools for the job, it’s even easier (and faster!).

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own cream cheese:

A strainer: This is how you’ll separate the curd cheese from the whey (the leftover liquid). We love Cuisinart’s strainer set because they’re all made of stainless steel. You get the following sizes:

  • Small (3-1/8 inches): Great for straining cocktails, or removing lumps from small amounts of sauces or water from canned tuna.
  • Medium (5-1/2 inches): For squeezing citrus fruits, sifting powdered sugar, and removing lumps from gravy and other sauces.
  • Large (7-7/8 inches): Drain beans, small amounts of pasta, or make various cheeses. This size is also excellent for rinsing rice or quinoa.

A regular pasta strainer will get the job done, too.

Cuisinart Fine Mesh Strainers Set of Three

Made of durable stainless steel.

Cheesecloth: It’s crucial that you line your strainer with this, as it prevents all the tiny lumps of curdled cheese from slipping through. You need all those precious curds for your cream cheese.

Reusable Cheesecloth

One step closer to homemade cheese.

A food processor: This is what will take your lumpy cheese curds to rich, spreadable cream cheese. You can do this with a handheld mixer, but a food processor makes a lot shorter work of all those lumps. We’ve been using the Elemental model for several years, and it also comes in handy for making nut butter, hummus, and puréed soups.

Cuisinart Elemental Food Processor

You'll use it over and over again.

How to Make Cream Cheese From Scratch

Cream cheese placed inside of a food processor before being processed.
Emilee Unterkoefler

The first time we made cream cheese from scratch, we tried this recipe. It’s pretty foolproof and boasts that naturally creamy flavor we all love.

However, after comparing it with the ever-popular Philadelphia brand, we felt like it didn’t offer enough tanginess. The texture was also a bit too firm after it sat in the fridge overnight. So, we tried again and made some tweaks to the recipe above.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons of whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt, heaping

Instructions:

Step 1: Combine the lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl.

Step 2: Add your milk to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Stir every 30 seconds or so to prevent it from burning.

Pouring milk into a large pot of water.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 3: After the milk begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low-medium, and add one tablespoon of the lemon juice/vinegar combination.

Pouring vinegar and lemon juice into a large pot of milk.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 4: Continue to stir the hot milk for at least one minute, add another tablespoon of the lemon juice/vinegar, and keep stirring.

A large pot of simmering milk being stirred
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 5: Add the last of the lemon juice/vinegar combination to the pot of milk and watch as it fully curdles.

A spoon pulled up showing that the milk has fully curdled after vinegar and lemon juice was added to it.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 6: Transfer curds to a cheesecloth-lined strainer to remove excess whey, and then allow the cheese to cool until it’s safe to touch.

Cheese curds placed over a cheesecloth lined strainer.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 7:  Pull the cheesecloth up and squeeze to remove more whey.

Step 8: Transfer cheese to a food processor. Add two tablespoons of milk and a generous 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and then process for a few minutes until you have smooth cream cheese.

Homemade cheese curds added to a food processor with a jar of milk and some lemons on the sides.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Step 9: Use a rubber scraper to remove all cream cheese from the food processor and place it in a food container. Place in the fridge for at least one to two hours to firm up, and then spread it on a hot toasted bagel.

An everything bagel with homemade cream cheese spread over it, with a few other bagels and some creamcheese on the side.
Emilee Unterkoefler

A Price Comparison

Prices for cream cheese vary by state. For example, at this writing, an eight-ounce container of Philadelphia costs $4.49 in Connecticut and $3.39 in Chicago. However, for a homemade versus store-bought comparison, here’s what our ingredients cost us locally:

  • One quart of whole milk: $1.89.
  • One lemon: 69 cents.
  • 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar: 2 Cents (approximately).
  • 1/4 Teaspoon of salt: Less than 1 cent (approximately).

So, all of our ingredients came to a grand total of $2.61. This means you can save nearly $2 by making your own authentic (and delicious) cream cheese spread.

Also, if you don’t want to purchase a brand-new bottle of milk for the additional two tablespoons, you can measure them out from the four cups you already have. This won’t affect the curdling process at all.


It’s no secret that food prices are incredibly high right now, but especially for cream cheese. If you want to save some cash at the grocery, this fave bagel topping is actually incredibly easy and cheap to make. And once you go homemade, you’ll probably never go back to Philly.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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