One-Hour Cheese: Better-For-You Cream Cheese

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Claudia Lucero wrote the book on making cheese -- fast! The author of One-Hour Cheese stopped by to show us how to whip up a better-for-you version of homemade cream cheese. And she showed us how to use it in everything from cheese spreads to cheesecake too!

Yogurt Cream Cheese

Enjoy this healthy cream cheese on your bagels, make a lighter cheesecake or simply enjoy it as a satisfying dip for veggies. It is naturally rich in probiotics and lower in fat than typical cream cheese, but it also has a mouth-watering tang and rich texture you will crave!

It is a great cheese for beginners to make and it is a beloved staple that many Mediterranean countries enjoy regularly (often called Labneh).

Find other simple recipes like these in the book, One Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero.

Fine cheesecloth and other cheesemaking supplies available at www.urbancheesecraft.com.

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Ingredients

1 quart plain, unsweetened yogurt (store-bought is fine but make sure it includes live cultures – this works with any fat content)

1/2-1 teaspoon sea salt (reduce to 1/4 teaspoon if you will use cream cheese for desserts)

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Supplies

Fine mesh cotton cheesecloth (the holes in the grocery store variety are too big, find 90# grade or fold your cloth 4-6 times)

Colander and large bowl

Measuring spoon

Stirring spoon

Tea towel

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Yield

About 2 cups, can vary slightly with yogurt used

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Instructions

STEP 1.

Line your colander with cheesecloth and place the colander in the bowl.

STEP 2.

Stir the salt into the yogurt and pour it all into the cheesecloth-lined colander. This will allow the whey (yellowish liquid) to drain and it will capture it for you if you want to use it (see note at the end of the recipe for whey uses).

STEP 3.

Cover the colander with a tea towel to protect from dust and drain yogurt at room temperature (ideally) for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Longer draining will result in a thicker, more complex cheese. Alternately, you can gather the cheesecloth into a bundle and hang it from a cupboard handle with a bowl below. Hanging the bundle drains the whey faster.

Start checking it at 8 hours. It may be like Greek yogurt, that’s nice too but when it’s really done, you should have a dense and delicious yogurt cream cheese. You can use it right away, but it will thicken a bit more after refrigeration.

Spoilage note - Don’t worry about spoilage at room temperature because the acid in the yogurt and salt both protect against it. If you omit the salt completely, drain only 8-12 hours. If you are in a very hot climate or reduce the salt, keep a close eye on it because these conditions can allow for mold to form more quickly. Discard if you see any pink spots or gray mold fuzz at all.

Refrigerated draining takes much longer and produces less flavor, but it can work if necessary.

STEP 4.

Stir the cream cheese to make the texture even (it will be softer in the middle). Refrigerate to fully set and serve.

Serving Tips:

Bagel Spread - Get creative with mix-ins to create bagel “shmears.” Chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a teaspoon of pesto, or a tablespoon of fresh dill are great options. Add more salt to taste when needed.

Veggie and Cracker Dip - Similarly, chop and blend in scallions, parsley and any other fresh herbs you enjoy creating a tasty and nutritious dip for raw veggie sticks and crackers. If you can find it, Everything Bagel Seasoning adds great flavor.

Desserts - To make cheesecakes or other desserts, simply replace the cream cheese in any recipe with this healthier alternative! For a simple dessert, stir in a dash of vanilla extract, add a drizzle of honey to taste and use as a dip for strawberries or apple slices.

Labneh! For an authentic Mediterranean experience, spread cheese thinly across a shallow bowl, sprinkle with the spice mix called Za’atar. Drizzle with plenty of good olive oil then dip warm flat bread and crisp veggies into your delicious cheese.

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Use the whey! The majority of the whey will drain in the first few hours. Capture that and refrigerate it. You can drink a couple of tablespoons at a time as a probiotic rich tonic great for digestion and helpful after a round of anti-biotics. Add the whey to smoothies as a live, whey protein supplement, and you can even use the whey like tangy buttermilk in pancake or biscuit recipes.

Storage Guidelines

Place cream cheese in a covered container and refrigerate. Good for 10-14 days, longer if it is on the salty side.