Cream cheese is a fresh cheese, which means that you eat it without aging it. It is a valuable ingredient (and condiment) that you can use as a spread on its own or in baked goods. It is the main ingredient for cheesecake and other desserts. If you have run out and getting some is impossible, any of the following products can be an effective cream cheese substitute.
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Your best bet: Mascarpone
Arguably the closest match is mascarpone cheese, which is a fresh cheese just like cream cheese. Mascarpone cheese is an essential ingredient in the Italian dessert tiramisu. Its consistency and flavor are similar enough to that of cream cheese that you can use it for the same purposes. It is an effective spread for toast and bagels, and you can use it to make cream cheese frosting.
Mascarpone will also work in cheesecake recipes but is best if you are trying to tone down the cheesy part of the flavor or plan to add another strong flavor like chocolate or lemon. If you want a particularly rich dessert, mascarpone will be an upgrade from regular cream cheese.
Because it is made from cream and not milk, one of Mascarpone’s big downsides is its higher fat content compared to cream cheese. The high fat gives it an even milder flavor than cream cheese. It is not as salty or sharp. The low saltiness can be remedied by adding a pinch of salt per serving but even then it might not be ideal for savory dishes.
A decent second choice: Neufchatel cheese
Neufchatel is often described as the precursor to cream cheese and has many of the same characteristics, which is why it is a good alternative. Cream cheese was invented to be an even richer form of Neufchatel cheese, which is a fresh cheese that comes from the Normandy region of France. It is an ancient cheese that is believed to have originated in the 6th century. Neufchatel cheese looks and performs a lot like cream cheese. It has an almost identical creaminess and subtle tangy flavor.
The big difference between Neufchatel cheese and cream cheese is the fat content. Neufchatel has a little less fat and a little more moisture per serving compared to cream cheese. The lower fat content means that it has fewer calories, which may be seen as a positive in some cases, but it also means that it may perform differently in some recipes.
In a pinch: Cottage cheese
Like cream cheese, cottage cheese is a fresh cheese. It will work as a cream cheese alternative in many dessert recipes and has the advantage of containing less fat. You can use cottage cheese as a low-fat cream cheese substitute in some recipes, but you may need to use heavy cream to increase the fat content in others. The cottage cheese and heavy cream combination is a good cream cheese substitute in desserts like cheesecake and carrot cake, where cream cheese frosting is standard. It can work as a healthier alternative in dips and sauces since it has less fat and more protein than cream cheese.
Cottage cheese does not look much like cream cheese, and it has a different consistency. You can get something more similar to cream cheese by straining cottage cheese through a cheesecloth.
Goat cheese will give you a sharper flavor than you would get from cream cheese. It has a more crumbly texture than cream cheese, but you can fix this by adding some heavy cream.