Cream cheese was first made in Europe, not in the city of Philadelphia, as is commonly believed. The first version comes from Normandy in France, where it was called Neufchatel cheese. This original French cream cheese had a semi-soft, crumbly consistency.
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Cream cheese was first documented in 1583 but may go as far back as 1043 making it one of the oldest French cheeses. French cream cheese is eaten after it has been matured for a short period, which makes it different from American cream cheese. American cream cheese is not aged.
American cream cheese was first mass-produced towards the end of the 1800s. A farmer from Chester in upstate New York named William Lawrence was making Neufchatel cheese that he sold to Park & Tilford, a prestigious New York City grocery store of the time. They requested an even richer cheese, which Lawrence made by adding cream to the cheese and calling it Neufchatel & Cream. This was the first American cream cheese.
At the time, cream cheese was considered a gourmet treat, served only in the most upscale New York restaurants. This would change after other New York farmers replicated the product. Prices dropped with the increased competition. Following the suggestion of cheese broker Alvah Reynolds, Lawrence began selling cream cheese under the brand name Philadelphia Cream Cheese because Philadelphia had a reputation for quality cheese at the time.
He couldn’t keep up with the demand, so Reynolds began selling cream cheese from other farmers under the same brand and went on to create his own company called the Phenix Company. The Philadelphia name was sold to the Phenix Company.
The Phenix Company merged with the Kraft Cheese Company in 1928 to make the Phenix-Kraft Cheese Company. The merger caused the cost of cream cheese to fall. Philadelphia Cream Cheese and another brand called Breakstone’s started advertising in the Jewish press.
The association between cream cheese and bagels was the result of those advertisements in the early part of the 20th century. Lox (smoked salmon) eventually joined the other two ingredients, and they would go on to become iconic in Jewish food culture.
Cream cheese flavor profile
Cream cheese has a very mild cheesy flavor that is sometimes compared to that of mozzarella. Its consistency is thick and dense even at room temperature. The thickness is comparable to that of peanut butter.
Health benefits of cream cheese
While it’s not commonly considered a great source of nutrients, cream cheese does contain a couple of important compounds.
- Vitamins: Cream cheese does contain a small portion of your daily vitamin A and B vitamins like riboflavin and cobalamin.
- Minerals: You can get a little of the calcium you need each day from a serving of cream cheese.
By consuming cream cheese, you may treat or prevent problems like:
- Poor vision: The vitamin A in cream cheese can help to protect eye health.
- Skin health: The vitamin B2 in cream cheese can keep skin healthy.
Cream cheese contains a significant amount of cholesterol, which might be a problem for anyone concerned about heart disease.
The most traditional way to consume cream cheese is on a bagel with some lox. The next most famous application is in cheesecake, where cream cheese is the main flavoring ingredient. Cream cheese is also a key ingredient in numerous recipes for dips and even for certain American-Chinese and Japanese dishes.