Cream Cheese is a wonderful accompaniment to bagels and English muffins, it also makes a great ingredient for recipes like cream cheese frosting, spinach dip, buffalo dip, or baked goods like coffee cake. Regardless of its numerous uses, I often find myself with extra cream cheese in my dairy drawer that I just can't seem to use before it begins to spoil.
Dairy products in general have a mixed record when it comes to freezing, so when I began to consider "can you freeze cream cheese" I knew it would probably work but I might see some degradation in texture when thawed. However, there is little I like less than wasting food so I decided to give it a go recently when I found myself with an extra block of cream cheese and no plans to use it in the next few days.
Freezing cream cheese, can it be done?
Freezing cream cheese is a pretty straightforward process, and the short answer is yes, you can absolutely freeze cream cheese with little change in texture or quality. There are also a few great ways to adjust and account for the change in texture and in some cases avoid that issue entirely.
Freezing cream cheese is an awesome way to extend the shelf life of excess cream cheese or help keep cream cheese on hand at all times so you're ready for any recipe you might want to create.
While I've tested freezing most types of cream cheese I have not experimented with vegan cream cheese alternatives, though I'm sure they will freeze you'll want to be careful as they may undergo more drastic texture changes once thawed.
How to freeze cream cheese.
To freeze cream cheese simply place an unopened cream cheese block in its cardboard box or foil wrapping into your freezer and allow it to stay there for 4-6 hours. Once the cream cheese is fully frozen you really don't need to do anything else to it until you want to defrost it.
If you are storing more than one package of cream cheese in your freezer at once you could put them together in a freezer bag to help save space but it's not necessary to prevent freezer burn. The foil packaging or cardboard box the cream cheese comes packaged in is more than enough to prevent your frozen cream cheese from experiencing freezer burn or any flavor change.
Once your cream cheese is fully frozen it will last for up to 6 months before you need to really worry about using it. The longer the cream cheese is frozen the more pronounced the texture change can become, so make sure to use it before it becomes too grainy to save.
You can freeze partial packages of cream cheese just make sure to wrap them completely in plastic wrap before freezing and to store the frozen cream cheese in an airtight container like a freezer storage bag.
Different types of cream cheese.
While plain Philadelphia cream cheese or a similar style will freeze perfectly, other types of cream cheese might not fair so well in the freezer. The three major types of cream cheese I see in the grocery store outside of regular, full fat packaged cream cheese are, Neufchatel, greek style cream cheese, and flavored cream cheese spreads.
All of these different styles handle freezing differently, here's what you need to know:
Neufchatel cheese or Neufchatel cream cheese is a similar style of fresh cheese that has a slightly lower fat content than traditional cream cheese. At 23% milk fat versus the 33% of regular cream cheese, I find Neufchatel to be lighter and fresher in taste and texture, this is also due to the higher moisture content.
Neufchatel cream cheese will freeze well, but it does go through a more pronounced texture change than regular full fat cream cheese might. You may find the thawed Neufchatel cheese is grainier than regular cream cheese when thawed.
Flavored cream cheese
Flavored cream cheese spreads come in a wide variety of flavors. From smoked salmon or chive, to cinnamon swirl or strawberry, you can find a flavored cream spread to match your taste and your bagel!
You can freeze some flavored cream cheese spreads with success while others won't take nearly as well to freezing. In general, I recommend using them before freezing becomes necessary, especially given their smaller size compared to larger cream cheese packages.
Greek-style cream cheese
Greek-style cream is made from a blend of milk and greek yogurt. It is often more tart and acidic than regular cream cheese, it can also feel thicker and richer. While I've only tried freezing greek cream cheese once or twice, it worked almost exactly as freezing regular cream cheese. Simply place the cream cheese package in the freezer and allow it to freeze fully. To thaw follow the direction
How to thaw frozen cream cheese.
1. In the fridge.
The best way to thaw cream cheese is to allow it to thaw naturally in your refrigerator. By keeping the temperature shock as small as possible you allow the cream cheese to thaw without experiencing excess graininess and water loss.
To properly thaw frozen cream cheese, first remove the package from the freezer. Next place the frozen cream cheese into a bowl and place that bowl in the refrigerator. Allow the cream cheese to sit in the refrigerator until fully thawed.
This process can take up to 24 hours depending on how large of a package of cream cheese you are trying to thaw. If you are planning on thawing cream cheese for a recipe in the refrigerator make sure to allow yourself enough time to properly thaw it before you need it. I always try to plan a few days ahead when I'm dealing with frozen cream cheese to make sure I get the best ingredient possible.
If you forget to thaw your cream cheese beforehand, don't worry there are other faster ways to get your frozen cream cheese into a usable state.
2. In the microwave.
The microwave in my opinion is one of the most underutilized thawing tools in the kitchen. Thanks to preset thawing programs you can easily load a frozen block of cream cheese into the microwave and get completely usable, perfectly thawed cream cheese in minutes.
Personally, I like to use the defrost by weight feature when thawing food in the microwave. This allows you to take the weight of the item you are defrosting and allow your microwave to determine the time needed to thaw the item without worrying about overcooking or overheating your food.
Luckily most cream cheese comes in 8oz packages which is a ½ pound for our purposes which makes it easy to set the defrost cycle and get your cream cheese thawed in the least amount of time. Before you start make sure to remove the cream cheese from its foil package to avoid and accidents in the microwave. Place the frozen cream cheese into a microwave-safe bowl, set the defrost cycle, and press start.
If you find your cream cheese is still frozen after the initial defrost cycle, go ahead and start the cycle again and make sure to check the cream cheese halfway through to determine if it's ready or not.
3. Under running water.
Defrosting cream cheese under running water is the middle ground between these two methods. I like to use this method personally because it allows me to avoid using my microwave and potentially overcooking my cream cheese, while also being able to pull the cream cheese out of the refrigerator at the last minute and still get it thawed quickly.
To thaw your frozen cream cheese under running water, first, place the package of cream cheese inside a freezer bag. Next press as much air out of the bag as possible and place it in a large bowl.
Place the large bowl under a stream of running water and allow it to fill the bowl up. Reduce the water to a thin stream and allow it to continue to run while the cream cheese is defrosting.
This last part is really important because while the water in the bowl will lower in temperature due to the frozen cream cheese, the water coming from the tap will always be at room temperature. By allowing the water to run into the bowl you are constantly displacing colder water and replacing it with warmer water that will speed up the thawing process.
Why does the texture change when you freeze cream cheese?
Cream cheese is essentially an emulsion or a stable mixture of milk fats, protein, and water. When you freeze cream cheese ice crystals form from the water content which can break the emulsion slightly and cause the fat/protein to bunch together creating a grainier less pleasant texture.
Thawing your cream cheese gently can help mitigate this problem, but there are also a few steps you can take to help return your cream cheese to its natural state once thawed.
How to improve the texture of thawed cream cheese.
While your cream cheese may not have the ideal texture when thawed, there are a few different ways to help return frozen and thawed cream cheese to its natural creamy cream cheese texture.
One of these methods is purely mechanical and involves no heating or cooking while the other two are based on heating and reblending the cream cheese and have the potential to overcook or change the texture of the cream cheese.
1. Food Processor/blender method.
To help reduce the graininess of frozen cream cheese you can blend the thawed cream cheese in a blender or food processor. Depending on the size of your blender or food processor I would recommend working in batches instead of loading all of the cream cheese in at once.
Simply add the cream cheese to the bowl or blender carafe and lock the lid in place. Pulse the food processor or the blender until the cream cheese is mixing smoothly and then turn the food processor or blender on completely.
Allow the cream cheese to blend for 1-2 minutes and then remove it from the machine. Place the now creamy cream cheese into a container and continue to blend any remaining cream cheese. Allow the cream cheese to set for a while in the fridge before using.
2. Microwave method.
By using a microwave you can heat the cream cheese to melt the milk fat and protein allowing it to be mixed back into the rich cream cheese state you are used to seeing. To start remove the cream cheese from its packaging and place it in a microwave-safe, glass bowl and put the bowl into your microwave. Cook the cream cheese for 30-second intervals and remove the bowl between each interval to stir the cream cheese.
After 2-3 minutes you should notice the cream cheese becoming creamier and less grainy. Be careful to scrape all the cream cheese from the sides of the bowl back into the center before microwaving it again to avoid drying the cream cheese out or cooking it into crispy pieces. If you do see some crispy edges start to form try to remove them rather than mixing them back into the cream cheese, this will help keep the texture as creamy as possible.
Once the cream cheese has returned to a more acceptable state, transfer it to an air-tight container and store it in the refrigerator until needed.
3. Stovetop method.
The stovetop method for fixing your cream cheese texture is much the same as the microwave method in that it uses heat to melt the milkfat and protein back into the water in the cream cheese. The main difference is that the stovetop method is done over a water bath while the microwave method is done in the microwave oven.
To start, remove the thawed cream cheese from its packaging, place it in a heat-safe bowl and place that bowl over a water bath on your stovetop. As the water bath heats the bowl of cream cheese, whisk regularly until you have achieved a rich, even texture.
Once the cream cheese is creamy again, transfer it into an air-tight container and refrigerate it for at least an hour before using.
Ways to use your frozen cream cheese.
While frozen cream cheese isn't ideal for topping a bagel or English muffin, there is still a lot you can do with it in your home cooking. Here are some ideas or recipes to try with your frozen cream cheese:
- cheese cake
Now that you've got a good handle on the question "can you freeze cream cheese" give it a try in your kitchen and let us know some of your favorite uses for frozen cream cheese in the comments below!