This is the fifth and final Hooked on Cheese column in our multi-part series focusing on “grocery store cheeses.” Great cheese doesn’t have to be pricey and difficult to obtain; there are many excellent options that can be found at your average grocery store. Raymond will be featuring his favorite cheeses that are readily accessible no matter where you are or what your budget.
America loves cream cheese. A lot. Case in point: on the Food Network website, there are over 1,200 recipes with cream cheese listed as an ingredient, ranging from cream-cheese-stuffed French toast to a Morel tart with cream cheese to brown-sugar-and-cream-cheese frosting to cream-cheese-stuffed pork chops… the list goes on and on. Each American consumes an average of more than 2.4 pounds every year! Cream cheese is an exceedingly versatile cheese, equally satisfying in both sweet and savory dishes.
But what is cream cheese, exactly? The USDA defines it as a soft, creamy, unripened cow’s milk cheese that must be at least 33-percent butterfat, no more than 55-percent moisture content, less than 1.4-percent salt content, and have a pH between 4.4 to 4.9. In other words, cream cheese is very tasty (33-percent butterfat) and perfectly soft and spreadable (55-percent moisture). It is made from milk, cream and salt; some brands also use additives to increase shelf life and to aid in maintaining the signature texture. Philadelphia® is the most popular brand, but there are so many to choose from: regionally produced versions, organic ones (the 365 Organic Cream Cheese from Whole Foods is great), and all-natural ones produced with out stabilizers and gums (Sierra Nevada’s Gina Marie from California is superb). Officially, Chester, New York is the birthplace of the Americanized version of cream cheese, but the beloved spread has a long history rooted in the Neufchâtel cheeses of France.
As for my own personal love of the stuff, every morning I eat a bagel for breakfast, and nine out of ten times I have it with cream cheese. Plus, I find new uses for cream cheese on a regular basis. For instance, just the other day my cheese chef friend let me know that blending cream cheese into your cheese mix makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches ever. And certain foods would just be wrong to serve without cream cheese (carrot cake topped with anything other than cream cheese frosting? Perish the thought!). Clearly, I far exceed the 2.4-pound-per-year national average… and I’m not ashamed to admit it.