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Cream cheese refers to the soft, spreadable white cheese that is consumed fresh. Versions of this cheese were made in France as far back as the 1650s, but in 1880, a well-known New York cheese manufacturer, A.L. Reynolds, began to distribute the cheese in the familiar foil wrapping. It was packaged under the label "Philadelphia Cream Cheese," which continues to be one of the most easily recognized brands. He used Philadelphia in the name not because it was created there, but because in that era, associating a food with the city suggested a higher quality. In some countries, this cheese is simply called Philadelphia to differentiate from other “cream” cheeses like triple cream brie.
Cream cheese is made from a combination of cream and milk, and is not matured or hardened, as are other cheeses. Instead, it is slightly firmed by the introduction of lactic acid. Less expensive brands often add stabilizers like guar gum to get the necessary firmness, because the high fat content of the milk products is prone to separating. Some feel that using stabilizers is cheating and they will only eat products made the “old-fashioned” way. Cream cheeses made without stabilizers may be more crumbly than spreadable, and it has a relatively short shelf life, even when kept refrigerated.
Bagels topped with cream cheese, called schmear in Yiddish, are of course a classic use of this food. Flavored versions are also popular, especially when served with bagels. Philadelphia Brand offers herbed, strawberry, pineapple, and onion flavored cream cheese in tubs. Whipped versions do spread easier, but it usually does include stabilizers and is sometimes sold under the name Neufchatel, which does not at all resemble European Neufchatel cheese. Low fat versions may also be called Neufchatel because they depend upon stabilizers.
There are many different recipes that incorporate this cheese. This includes cheese cake, frosting, dips and spreads, and omelets. It can also be used in alternating layers with pesto and sundried tomatoes, or as the bottom layer for raspberry Jell-O.
In spite of being cheese, cream cheese has a fairly low protein content as compared to hard cheeses. A one-ounce (28 g) serving only has 1 gram of protein. Traditional cream cheese can also be quite high in saturated fat, containing as much as 40% fat. It fortunately contains no trans fats, so it does have its redeeming qualities. Philadelphia has been effective in marketing its product as better than butter, because it is lower in fat than butter.