What Is Cream Cheese?

This white, spreadable cheese is more than just schmear

Foodnetwork/Cathy Lowe

The bagel’s longtime sidekick is white, mild, and spreadable. Cream cheese is a smooth, soft but firm cheese made from cow’s milk. Used on toast, muffins, and scones, this condiment turns any  baked good into a tangy moist creation.

Who can we thank for this creamy breakfast spread? William Lawrence, a lover of dairy, mimicked France’s Neufchâtel cheese by adding more cream. He began selling his condiment in small, tin-foiled packages, hoping to be recognized in the city of Philadelphia. Soon after, a fellow cheesemaker convinced him to mass-produce his product under the Philadelphia brand name that is still seen on our shelves today.  

Sharing its spotlight with soft cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese, cream cheese can be found in a variety of forms — from the diet-friendly "lite" versions to whipped. It’s also available in flavors with herbs, vegetables, or fruity mix-ins. Once opened, be aware that this delight is an odor sponge.  So take care of your schmear by keeping it refrigerated and covered at all times.

Although many prefer it spooned onto an everything bagel, cream cheese is commonly spread on celery, used in dips, cheesecakes, and frostings. The versatility of cream cheese alone makes it an outstanding ingredient in any dish. When heated, this cheese melts and oozes, crowning itself as a perfect substitute for sour cream on some occasions.

So, if you get bored of plain cream cheese atop your morning nosh, revamp your style and use it as glue: sandwich some tomato and lox and you're good to go. Or step away from the traditional flavor and try something new.


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