Two items that we seem to buy every week from the grocery store are cream cheese and sour cream. Why I haven't already started making these myself sooner is beyond me. Most likely because I didn't realize how extremely easy it was to do both. For the cream cheese, I've read several recipes that call for fancy equipment or hard-to-find ingredients, but there are other ways of making it that won't make your throw your hands up in frustration. And, considering the amount of plastic packaging involved with both items, making them at home will also limit the amount of waste involved (although we do recycle both kinds of containers). These recipes are so easy, you'll wonder why you never tried them before.
Homemade Cream Cheese
1 quart homemade or store-bought plain yogurt (whole milk or low-fat, depending on your preference)
Place a clean kitchen towel or clean muslin in a colander. Place the colander in a bowl that is large enough to hold it. Add the yogurt to the lined colander and wrap the towel over the top to cover (or use a plate). Leave this to drain for about 5 hours in the refrigerator. If you want a thicker consistency, leave it longer, making sure to empty what is draining so it doesn't reach the bottom of the colander and get reabsorbed. Store your finished cream cheese in a resealable container in the fridge. Better yet, use one of your old packaged cream cheese containers to do the job!
Your cream cheese will last as long as your yogurt would, so if you used purchased yogurt (rather than making it yourself), check the expiration date and use that as your guide. (I highly recommend trying to make the yogurt yourself since this will cut down on additional waste especially if you can get your milk in returnable glass bottles.) If you want to get fancy, you can add flavorings to your cream cheese. Try adding homemade strawberry jam for strawberry-flavored cream cheese. If you spent time dehydrating onions, then adding those (or fresh green onions) and chives from your garden will make a tasty chive-and-onion cream cheese spread.
Homemade Sour Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream or buttermilk (or even white vinegar will work)
In a screw-top jar or mason jar with lid, combine the heavy cream and sour cream (or buttermilk). Shake the ingredients up a bit to thoroughly mix and let stand, covered, at room temperature for about 24 hours or until it becomes very thick. You can store your sour cream in the refrigerator in the original jar you mixed it in (or use some other resealable container) for up to one week. Make sure that your sour cream is well chilled before using.
If you want to make a lighter sour cream, substitute whole milk for 1/2 cup of the heavy cream.
Looking for homemade cheese recipes made with easy-to-find ingredients? You can find homemade ricotta and the like in my Easy Cheese Series.
See also: Easy Cheesy: 4 Super-Simple Recipes, You Can Make Yogurt at Home and How to Make Your Own Yogurt, Kefir, Chevre