Easy Yogurt Cream Cheese

Yogurt “cheese” really isn’t cheese at all.  It’s simply yogurt that has been thickened into a soft, cream cheese-like consistency…and it’s delightful on your morning bagel or in recipes calling for cream cheese or sour cream.

Although I have used fat-free and 2% yogurt to make this creamy spread, I prefer whole milk yogurt for a smooth, fresh taste reminiscent of mascarpone.  For years, I never actually bought whole milk yogurt.  I drank skim milk growing up so whole milk seemed so full of, well, fat.  But if you look at the nutritional comparison between sour cream or cream cheese and yogurt–even full fat yogurt–yogurt is still the winner by a mile.  Plus, it offers a healthy dose of calcium and protein.

For sure, I still buy sour cream and cream cheese on occasion. But for the sake of easy substitutions, this is just a handy recipe to have in your kitchen tool box.  I always have yogurt on hand–but often do not have sour cream or cream cheese–so this simple technique has saved me a trip to the grocery store on more than one occasion.

Starting with a quart-size (32-ounce) container is ideal when making yogurt cheese.  As for yield, a good estimate is that every one cup of yogurt will produce one-third to one-half a cup of yogurt cheese. The amount of liquid lost in the process–and, ultimately, how thick the resulting cheese is–depends on how long the yogurt drains.  When starting with Greek yogurt, less liquid will drain out as some of the whey has already been removed. Feel free to make this easy recipe in any proportion, depending on how much cheese you’d like in the end.

Easy Yogurt Cream Cheese
Yields approximately 1 cup.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups yogurt (I prefer Stonyfield Organic’s whole milk yogurt although non-fat or 2% will work. Greek yogurt may be used; less liquid will drain out)
Instructions
  1. If you have a fine-mesh strainer, you may add the yogurt without lining it first.  If using a colander, line it with a piece soft cotton fabric (I like to use an old, thin–clean!–t-shirt that I’ve cut into a rag; seven or eight layers of cheesecloth may be used instead).  Place the strainer or colander over a bowl or pot, and then scoop the yogurt into the strainer or cloth-lined colander. Make sure the bottom of the strainer doesn’t touch the liquid in the bowl as it drains out.
  2. Place in the refrigerator, and let the yogurt drain overnight or at least 8 to 12 hours.  You may cover with plastic wrap, but this is not critical.  The longer the yogurt strains, the thicker it will become.  I like the end result to be really thick and typically let the yogurt drain for two days. You may use it at anytime, even while still draining.
  3. When the yogurt has reached the desired level of thickness, remove it from the strainer and store in a jar or other airtight container in the refrigerator.
  4. The liquid whey that has drained into the bowl may be discarded, or it can be used as a substitute for buttermilk, milk, or water in bread, muffin, or cake recipes.  It’s quite nutritious.
  5. The cheese will keep for about a week and may be used just like cream cheese or even sour cream. Avoid beating the yogurt cheese too vigorously as it may break down.
Notes
  • If you wish to use the yogurt cheese in a savory recipe, you may stir 1 teaspoon of kosher salt into every three cups of yogurt prior to straining.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/
Beyond Bagels… more ways to enjoy yogurt “cream cheese”:

  • Make an herbed cheese by mixing in fresh or dried herbs, minced garlic, pepper flakes, etc.
  • Use it as a base for tzatziki sauce.
  • Try it in this recipe for Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
  • …Or this recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese
  • Dollop on baked potatoes, chili, and other soups or spicy recipes for a luscious alternative to sour cream.
  • Make Yogurt Cheese Balls (Labneh Makbus) by straining until the yogurt (mixed with 1 teaspoon salt per 3 cups of yogurt) is very thick.  Then roll a tablespoon at a time into smooth, round balls, and chill until firm.  Once the balls are firm and slightly dried out, place them in an airtight jar and cover with olive oil.  Enjoy with olives and/or fresh pita bread.
  • Enjoy as extra-thick Greek yogurt mixed with fruit, a drizzle of maple syrup–or all by itself!

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If you have a fine-mesh sieve, there is no need to line it with cloth as is necessary with a colander.

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When I make yogurt cream cheese with whole milk yogurt, I don’t add a thing to it.  If using non-fat or 2% yogurt, I like to add a bit of honey or maple syrup.

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Comments

  1. Krissie

    Thank-you so much for this recipe…I had some friends who moved back to their home country and never got their recipe, which sounds surprisingly close to your recipe!
    Also thank-you for going into such detail with tips on how to make it and ideas to make it different when desired!

    Reply
  2. Trudy

    Ann, I ADORE your blog; I’ve told you before that your ideas are healthy AND delicious! I have a thin athletic teenager who I need to fill up with healthy calories. Unfortunately, he’s lactose intolerant so I make him yogurt from Lactaid milk for parfaits and smoothies. I just asked him if he would like me to try your cream cheese recipe. His response was “Of course! I always eat cream cheese when it’s offered, despite the intestinal distress it will cause. I can turn down pizza, but not cream cheese!”

    Reply
    1. Ann

      What a terrific comment, Trudy…thank you! Because most of the lactose-containing whey is strained out in this process–and the result is more of the protein component, or casein–your son might find that he can eat this with less distress compared to many other dairy products…at least I hope so. I’d love to hear how it goes!

      Reply
      1. Trudy

        He should be fine because I’ll make it with my homemade Lactaid yogurt. I found if I made Greek style yogurt by heating it longer he could eat it but it became really tangy, then he added something to sweeten it up, negating some of its “healthiness”.

        Reply
        1. Ellie

          I found out it was the casein that bothered me and learned that there are two types of milk protein, A1 and A2. Turns out most cow’s milk is A1 (from Holstein cows) but some breeds of cows and all goats give A2. Hooray for goat yogurt!

          Reply
          1. Ann Post author

            So true, Ellie! We tend to hear more about lactose, but some people are more sensitive to the protein casein. Thanks for your helpful comment.

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  5. Linda

    Do you have the nutritional information for the whole milk version. I am a diabetic and am trying to get a better handle on carb counts and would like to start using more yocheese in recipes to help me better manage my health.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Linda, A half cup of whole milk, regular yogurt has (with slight variations depending on the brand), 80 calories, 7 grams of carbs, 7 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein. The numbers will change slightly upon straining. For example, there will be more protein. Here is a recipe calculator that you may find helpful: https://www.verywell.com/recipe-nutrition-analyzer-4129594. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  6. KATHLEEN B HILLS

    I just discovered Labneh and love it. It’s hard to get in my city and also a bit pricy I think. I love to experiment so I researched and found this neat and SO EASY way so I will definately do this. What’s to lose?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Nothing! I’m delighted you found this, too, and I think you will be thrilled with the outcome. Just start with a good, whole milk yogurt for the smoothest flavor…and enjoy!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      You may find it thick enough in less time than that. You could give it a try. The worst case scenario is that it’s not quite as thick as regular cream cheese…but it’s close!

      Reply
    2. Meme

      You have to do ahead but it literally just sits for 8-12 hours in your fridge. You can do overnite while you sleep

      Reply
  7. Lisa

    Hi Ann, I’ve had the yogurt sitting in a colander since last night and it is thickening up quite nicely! I will leave it in the fridge the rest of the day to see if it will thicken up some more. I used a fat free plain Greek yogurt.

    Can this now be used in baking or cooking? For example, will this hold up in a cheesecake or in a casserole that you would use normal cream cheese for?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Lisa, I’ve used the thickened yogurt for baking but am not sure about something like a cheesecake, which relies so heavily on cream cheese. In this case, you’d also be losing a lot of the fat that the cream cheese normally provides, which would likely change the cheesecake. I would experiment by replacing part of the cream cheese in a cheesecake, but be more adventurous when using in muffins, quick breads, etc. I’ve also used this in mashed potato casseroles, spread it on bagels, and in breakfast bowls with various combinations of seasonal fruits, quinoa, granola, etc. If you use it in stovetop cooking (I’ve used a whole milk version in a creamy tomato sauce), just be sure to stir it in at the end so that it doesn’t break. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  8. Patricia colin

    I have a recipe that calls for FRENCH YOGURT CREAM CHEESE…? I’m stumped! Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Patricia, I’m guessing the recipe is referring to fromage blanc, a creamy soft cheese, or creme fraiche. What kind of recipe is it? If I saw the recipe I might be able to offer a suggestion or substitution. Feel free to email me through the contact page of this site if you have lingering questions.

      Reply
  9. Lucy Jake

    Hello : )
    I am chuckling to myself, but, I am also still wondering if the actual heat involved (if you are making the yogurt first) also makes a difference. I am on my 8th batch of making my own yogurt, so I am still in the experimental stage. I always use whole milk, and this time I decided that there was no need for me to scald the milk first only to let it cool down enough to add the “starter” without killing the cultures. My decision not to scald the milk was based first on laziness because I didn’t want to deal with the skin or the scrubbing of my big pot. The second reason was to save about 3 hours of time waiting for the milk to cool back down. I just assumed that the how-to vids I watched always scalded the milk in order to pasteurize it as they were using fresh, raw milk. Anyway … I love the thick “Greek-style” yogurt, but, during my first several attempts, I think I may have started straining too early because a whole gallon of milk barely made a quart of yogurt and the results were not very thick. It seems like a lot of the yogurt just strained out because the whey was milky. My subsequent batches had very clear whey (BTW excellent info about the usefulness and the nutritional value of the whey… I won’t be throwing it down the drain anymore. I wonder, how long does it keep??). Anyway, the earliest batches had milky whey instead of clear, so I now just assume that I didn’t let it sit and “do its thing” long enough. So. This latest batch, I did NOT scald the milk, and I did NOT warm the oven before I put the pot in there to do it’s thing. I DID use more starter yogurt than usual… probably half a pint of Stonyfield probiotic to a gallon of whole milk. It only sat maybe 4 or 5 hours AT THE MOST before it was obviously ready… the whey was clear and definitely separated from the yogurt… so in a VERY short while, the yogurt was definitely “done.” Then I strained it for only 2 hours max… the whey practically poured out because the yogurt part was so very thick. For flavor, I always add a vanilla bean as the milk is heating. Then after the yogurt has been strained, I add vanilla extract and blue agave syrup to sweeten it (however, this time, the yogurt was barely tart at all..). I did notice that a substantial amount of whey had collected, and also, I didn’t have to stir it around to keep straining it as the yogurt was very thick (the thickest I’ve made so far). So I just tipped it into a big bowl, covered it in plastic wrap, put in the fridge and forgot about it. The next day when I made a bowl with fresh strawberries on top, I noticed that it was VERY thick after being chilled in the fridge. I had a bite and it was very tasty, but it was also too thick and too dry for even Greek-style yogurt. I also noticed it was VERY sweet. It didn’t take me long (my 2nd or 3rd bite) before I realized that it tasted EXACTLY like strawberry cheesecake without the crust. (Yum!) Upon eating a bite of it plain, it tasted just like sweet cream cheese. (Why doesn’t cream cheese come with a probiotic statement like most yogurt brands do??) So there I was, stumped. I am not quite sure HOW I did it… I just know that somehow, I inadvertently made cream cheese. Which is how I found your site… Except for not scalding the milk, I’m still not sure what I did differently with this batch that I didn’t do with the others. Perhaps also I used more probiotic yogurt to start with… Instead of just 2 or 3 tablespoons to a gallon of milk, I used about half a pint. It was “ready” MUCH sooner than my previous attempts, and it strained more quickly as well.
    So now I’m completely stumped. It seems that, somehow, it was the temperature of the milk that made the difference, because that is that ONLY thing that I did differently. My previous batches took much longer to strain, and they weren’t anywhere near as thick as this batch. I’m finding it difficult to believe that the ONLY difference is how long you strain it, because, I strained my previous batches MUCH longer than this one, and they were still “yogurt.” So, the yogurt cream cheese that I accidentally made is VERY good, but it am not at all sure how to recreate it on purpose. I know that using so much starter yogurt made the entire process much quicker than if I had used only 3 tablespoons. But I did not strain it long at all… As I said before, my previous batches were strained MUCH longer, of this I am certain. Which leaves only the temperature difference to end up with “cheese” instead of yogurt… I would greatly appreciate your take on this. Thank you. : )

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Lucy, You’ve been busy! First I will say that I have not ventured into making yogurt yet-just converting yogurt into this variety of “cream cheese.” As you’ve found out, it’s a bit of a science experiment. Heat definitely affects the growth of the bacteria which ultimately creates the yogurt. Since you’re not sure how to replicate, I would continue taking notes detailing each batch and start including the temperature of the milk. I think if you use a quick-read thermometer to track the temperature you will be able to hit upon the number that creates the outcome you’re looking for. Good luck…and feel free to report back!

      Reply