I’ll get right to the point: the easiest and most delicious way to overcome the Great Cream Cheese Shortage of 2021 is to make it yourself.
As the New York Times reported, a combination of skyrocketing demand, supply chain issues and even the odd cyberattack has led New York delis and supermarkets scrambling for non-existent product. Production fell 7% in October compared to the previous year.
The shortage caused the production line at Junior’s Cheesecake, which paddles through 40,000 pounds of Philadelphia cream cheese every 36 hours, to grind to a halt Dec. 3, the first time in 71 years.
Fortunately, you can make do with a little less than 40,000 pounds. Also, in the world of cheesemaking, cream cheese is an entry level, training wheels, color-by-numbers recipe. If you screw it up, you will likely still end up with something very good to eat.
I know that because I’ve screwed it up. Earlier this week when I set out to solve the shortage, I used an expired culture that didn’t properly activate. The result was almost a quart of creme fraiche. There are worse things in life, and in my refrigerator.
But cooking something new is always a leap of faith, a dare with manageable downsides. I have faith you will succeed, and for your very brief efforts you’ll get a spread for your bagel that is smooth, fresh and clean-tasting, with none of the gobby gumminess of store-bought or even most deli-counter cheeses.
The key is to start with the best milk and cream you can find. Organic for sure, and the fresher the better. You probably won’t save money making your own cream cheese — but at least, come Sunday, your bagels won’t be bare.
Homemade Cream Cheese
Makes 1 1/2 pounds
1 quart whole milk (not ultrapasteurized)
1 quart heavy cream (not ultrapasteurized)
¼ teaspoon Flora Danica or mesophilic cheese starter
3 drops liquid vegetable rennet (dissolved into 2 tablespoons filtered water)
¾ teaspoon salt
In a large and very clean pot, slowly heat milk and cream to 75 degrees F., stirring gently. If it goes over, let cool.
Sprinkle culture over the top and let sit 2 minutes. Gently stir in with a clean spoon. Add rennet, stirring thoroughly and slowly for 2 minutes.
Place milk in a warm spot, cover, and let sit 12-24 hours. At that point, the milks will have coagulated and the sides should come away when prodded with a knife.
Scoop curds into a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth. Cover and let drain for 12-36 hours. Place in your container, stir in salt and refrigerate.