REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Whey (and “Cream Cheese”)

whey and yogurt cheese

(To buy the REAL FOOD 101 E-book: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared, click here.  Full color photos, step by step tutorials, and more.  Only $14.)

Whey is incredibly useful when making lacto-fermented drinks (such as beet kvass), condiments (such as mayonnaise), and vegetables (such as these dilly carrot sticks) at home.

I have mentioned in several recipes that I use whey.  Have you ever bought yogurt from the store and there is a little liquid on the top before you stir it all together?  That’s whey.  However, it’s only a teaspoon or so if you pour it off.  You will need more than that to make ketchup on a regular basis!

So if you want to make whey, then it’s best to use my method below.  Plus, when you make whey my way you get “cream cheese”*, too.  (That’s a bonus for those of you taking the Whole Grains E-course and you’re learning to make your own bagels.  That’s a match made in heaven.)

(*It’s really strained yogurt cheese or Greek yogurt, but I find it works wonderfully as cream cheese.  My readers are right, it’s not really cream cheese.  I just think cream cheese sounds better than yogurt cheese.  And Sally Fallon started it!!  She calls this cream cheese in Nourishing Traditions.  I had to come update this, because now my curiosity is piqued and I have to make real cream cheese!)

You can make whey from curdled raw milk, homemade yogurt, or homemade milk kefir.  And can have a little rant about why raw milk is better than pasteurized?  Thank you.  Raw milk curdles and changes into something else that you can eat.  Commercial pasteurized milk spoils and you throw it away.  This is a good enough reason for me to use raw milk!

You can let raw milk separate on the counter at room temperature for a few days, and then strain through a cheesecloth until the curds are all separated from the whey.  Or you can use yogurt or milk kefir, which I find much easier, personally.  They whey drains out of yogurt and kefir much more cleanly than the raw milk version.  Plus, the leftover creamy curds from yogurt are cream cheese.  Delicious!

Whey and cream cheese, separated

Why go through the trouble of making whey?  Whey naturally inoculates foods from bad bacteria so that good bacteria can flourish, and has been used that way to make traditional foods for thousands of years.  And whey keeps for about 6 months in the fridge, so you don’t need to worry about it spoiling.

There are side benefits to whey.  Did you know that whey can even be helpful for those with blood sugar problems?  According to Wikipedia:

Liquid whey contains lactose, vitamins, protein, and minerals, along with traces of fat. In 2005, researchers at Lund University in Sweden discovered that whey appears to stimulate insulin release, in type 2 diabetics.[6] Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they also discovered that whey supplements can help regulate and reduce spikes in blood sugar levels among people with type 2 diabetes by increasing insulin secretion.

I say this all the time, but this is why I love real food.  You can trust it.  It’s tried and true by your ancestors.  And beneficial side effects tend to crop up and make your healthier.  Plus it just tastes better.  You can’t really go wrong with real food.

Equipment Needed:

Whey and Cream Cheese from Yogurt or Kefir

1/2 gallon of yogurt (buy yogurt starters here, see how to make yogurt here)

  1. In a large bowl, place a large strainer and line it with a piece of cheesecloth.  Gently pour the yogurt into the lined strainer and cover with a towel to keep dust and bugs out.  Let drip overnight at room temperature on the counter.
  2. The next morning, uncover, and lift cheesecloth out of the strainer, filled with cream cheese.  Put the cream cheese in a bowl, peel off the cheesecloth and discard, and set aside.  Use as is, or make into a sweet or savory spread by following the recipe below.
  3. Remove strainer from the original mixing bowl.  Below will be all your whey! 
    Pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator.  Use to make lacto-fermented drinks and foods.  Whey will keep for 6 months in the refrigerator.

Sweet or Savory Cream Cheese Spread

1 quart (4 cups) cream cheese

  1. For a sweet cream cheese spread:  Mix in 1 cup fruit jam, OR 1/2 cup honey, OR 1/2 cup maple syrup.  I love to add honey and cinnamon for a cinnamon sugar spread.  Serve with bagels, toast, or use as a fruit dip.
  2. For a savory cream cheese spread:  Mix in 1/4 cup finely chopped chives, 1 tablespoon onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste for a basic savory flavor.  OR mix in 1/4 cup finely chopped basil, 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste for an Italian savory flavor.  Serve with crackers, toasts, savory bagels, or use as a vegetable or chip dip.

This post is a part of Weekend Gourmet, Sunday School, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, The Mommy Club, Healthy2day Wednesday, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Full Plate Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, and Friday Food Flicks.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


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  1. hi, i’m on something of a mission lately. as i’ve commented at food renegade and heavenly homemakers, strained yogurt is not cream cheese. strained yogurt is greek yogurt or labna or, if you prefer to give it an american name, yogurt cheese. but it is not cream cheese. and it does not taste like cream cheese. yogurt cheese is tangier and not as creamy as cream cheese. but they can easily be substituted for each other.

    to make cream cheese, you add cream to whole milk and follow a somewhat involved culturing process. to see how:

    thanks for letting me clear that up!

    • I call it cream cheese mostly because that’s what Sally Fallon says in Nourishing Traditions and I find it easier to make this version of cream cheese than the proper one. Plus I don’t like the name “yogurt cheese”. It doesn’t sound as good as cream cheese. So it may not be proper, but I’m sticking with it 😉

    • Sa’ada
      So how do you make “real” cream cheese form Raw milk? Can you do it without pasteurizing it? I have read that you can let the milk sit and separate into curds and whey, and the curds are “cream cheese,” but now I am not sure that those curds are true cream cheese or not! 🙂

  2. I’m not on a mission, because it’s hopeless. All the real food bloggers have been calling strained yogurt cream cheese, and it has bugged me from the very beginning. I have made cream cheese, and what I made tasted very much like store bought cream cheese, only better, because it was made with fresh milk. I guess everyone is calling it that because Sally F started it. I’m not getting how they all say strained yogurt or strained cultured milk tastes like/better than cream cheese, when it’s nowhere close. There is absolutely NO SUBSTITUTE for cream cheese. You can certainly substitute if you want, but it will not produce that uber-creamy sweet yumminess that is cream cheese! So there, I’ve said it, but I’m not gonna try to convince anyone. Maybe that will just leave more REAL cream cheese for me! 🙂

    • LOL! Okay, okay, I give! Even though I maintain that I did know it wasn’t proper cream cheese, I was just going with the flow!

      Plus, now I need to make real cream cheese, which means I’ll have to write a post on it. So I’ll go put quotes around it 🙂

      • oh great, kendahl! i’m going to subscribe so i’m sure not to miss the post when you make real cream cheese. naomi’s done it but i never have so i want to see how to do it.

        the reason why i think we shouldn’t stick with this misnomer is that if someone tastes yogurt cheese, thinking that it’s a real food version of cream cheese, they will be disappointed and it could give people reservations about real food. but in reality, and as naomi says in the case of real cream cheese, real food always tastes better.

        • I am an amateur cheese making and a real food blogger myself. There is not such a hard and fast definition to “cream cheese” because all immature, unripened cheeses are named after the specific cultures and aging methods used. They all fall into a larger category of “cream-y” cheeses. The store bought cheese that is called cream cheese can be made at home using a really similar method to drain milk that is cultured with flora Danica or another Brie culture and using rennet as an addition to give firmness. I really think that Kendahl is being fair in calling this cream cheese. Just not like Philly.

          • Very interesting. Now I really want to make some and compare them! What do you do when you make cream cheese at home, specifically, sa’ada?

          • sorry, kendahl, that was naomi that made the cream cheese. all i know is that yogurt cheese does not taste anywhere near as good as store bought cream cheese. and homemade cream cheese must be that much better! so, i’m looking forward to the post.

    • thank you, naomi. and save me some of the real cream cheese!

  3. Two questions, you didn’t mention if while the yogurt was draining if it’s IN the fridge or on the counter, which is it? Second, I think I have had whey go bad, it developed a ‘cloud’ (looked like a bubble) sort of hanging out at the bottom of the jar. Think it went bad? *Thanks for your help! :o)

    • I have had that bubble thing happen, and I just fish it out and smell the whey to see if it smells the same. I haven’t had any trouble using it after that. And yes, you drain the yogurt at room temperature 🙂

  4. Hi Kendahl,
    Thank you so much for sharing your great recipe with Full Plate Thursday. Hope you are having a great Spring week end and come back to see me real soon!
    Miz Helen

    • Jo Dee says:

      I accidentally got peach flavored yogurt, can I still separate it and have “peach” flavored cream cheese and whey or does it HAVE to be plain yogurt?

  5. I end up with so much whey when I make homemade Greek yogurt. I’ve been meaning to try doing something with it, but never knew how long it would keep. I’m glad to know that it doesn’t go bad quickly.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing on Allergy-Free Wednesday. Hope you’ll join us again this week with another great recipe!

  7. I think you are right in calling it cream cheese — maybe not idential to the commercial cream cheese, but it is very close and much thicker than Greek yogurt (if you let it drip long enough), and when you add honey it tastes even more like cream cheese. Maybe the type of yogurt used makes a difference? I used organic grass-fed yogurt. Anyway, whatever people choose to call it, I think it is absolutely delicious!

  8. Hi!

    I am very new to the idea of fermented foods and their benefits. I have been reading as much as I can on the subject. I’m wondering if you know the answer to my question… I have had a problem with dairy for about 5 years, ever since I had a bad food poisoning in NYC. Over the years I have narrowed down my problem to anything that says it has whey in it. I think the probiotic benefits of fermenting could really help my gut, but what am I supposed to do if the one thing that seems to hurt me, is the thing that is the main ingredient in helping the process, whey!
    Do you know the answer or could you point me in the right direction? Thanks so much 🙂

    • Yes, I can help! First of all, try raw dairy products over their pasteurized counterparts. You may find relief that way.

      But in terms of fermented food in general, you don’t need to use whey to lacto-ferment and culture foods. You can just use unrefined sea salt. Some recipes only call for salt in the first place, but if they call for whey, then you can always omit the whey and use more salt.

  9. Hello!
    Great site! Just curious (maybe I just missed it but..) how much whey do you get from 1/2 gallon homemade yogurt?

  10. Suzanne says:

    Hi Kendahl

    I just discovered your site. My son, who has ulcerative colitis, is on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I make the SCD yoghurt and strain it for 5-6 hours in the refrigerator because he likes it really thick. I have been dumping the liquid down the sink but am wondering if I should save it…because SCD yoghurt is fermented longer to remove most of the lactose, is the liquid still considered whey? He had to give up protein shakes because of his colitis and is looking for an alternative, he lifts several times per week, and I’m wondering if he could use this liquid to make his own protein smoothies….
    Thanks for your help!

  11. Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I linked to your page in my latest blog post for fermented salsa. I like your simple pictures and instructions to make whey and I’m sending my readers your… ‘whey’. haha. I’m glad I stumbled upon your site and look forward to browsing.

  12. Hi! Loved the post! Thank you!
    I just made my first attempt at whey & sour cream. I would love some feedback/tips from those more experienced than I. I’m just a newbie. 😉

  13. I am thrilled to find your website because I have been struggling with how to make cream cheese that tastes like store bought. I couldn’t figure out what the “progression’ of products are from raw milk. Now I think I understand a little more from the couple of people writing on your blog. However, I didn’t actually see a recipe for the cream cheese. Also anyone know how to make real cottage cheese? Good cream cheese is my largest goal right now.

  14. I’m trying to make cream cheese also using the Sally F. recipe with raw milk. When I let it sit out for 1-4 days, do I cover it? I just put it in a mason jar with the lid, should I take the lid off and put a cloth over instead? Thanks for you help.

  15. Hi!
    I just found this wonderful site and feel very excited. I have a question about whey and strained yogurt. Where does the protein go? If Greek yogurt is a srtrained whey and we know it has lots of protein then what is left in the whey? One more tip on whey- it is good for your hair too!

  16. I just did this.. cannot wait to try it! But! I realized that I used a metal spoon to put the yogurt into the cheesecloth / strainer. (also the strainer is metal..) Will this effect the outcome?? I hope not or else I’m out a half gal of yogurt

  17. I have a question for you on making whey. I have a half gallon of raw milk in my fridge that went sour. So I just left it alone and left it in the fridge. It is 4 months old. It has separated in the jar, and hasn’t been opened since April. Is the clearish liquid whey? Can I use that? I was just doing a science experiment but now I am wondering what to do with it. Thanks!

    • Yes, that is whey! Just make sure it smells sour, and not “bad”. What you should have is half curds and half whey in that container 🙂

  18. Thanks so much for the tips on making whey. I am getting ready to make my first batch of lacto fermented soda, and I need some whey to get started (I think)!

  19. Hello,

    i’ve made whey months ago, and i haven’t finished using it.I stored it in a glass jar in the fridge. Today, i looked at the lid, and there is a lot of blue,white mold growing. I wonder why, it scared me so much. it is only on the lid.Should I continue on using the whey? I smelled it and it doesn/t seem to have a big yogourt smell, as i used to get when the last time i opened it though.Should I continue to use it? I dont understand why though. Should i discard the lid or wash it?
    i dont know what to do. Please HELP!

  20. I made yogurt from pasteurized, homogenized milk. I cannot find raw milk where I live. Could I soak foods with the whey ,or would it spoil?

  21. anonymous says:

    LOVE this post…thank you!!

    I must say though, quoting wikipedia is never a good idea.


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