Where does cream cheese come from?

So we know when cream cheese came to Japan, and from where: commercial cheese makers in America and regions Down Under, about the year 1980. But then where did those guys get it? Who invented cream cheese to begin with? The answer is: a dairyman from Chester, New York by the name of William Lawrence. He’s said to have accidentally invented cream cheese in 1872 while attempting to create a short-ripened American version of the soft French cheese, Neufchâtel. He failed, but the rest, as they say, is history.

The interesting thing about cream cheese is that it’s rather low in fat, at least compared to conventional cheeses. It’s roughly 50% water, with a fat content of about 33%. Compare that to your average firm cheese, which is about 50% fat. A bargain by comparison, though I tend to spread quite a bit of it on a bagel…

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6 Responses to Where does cream cheese come from?

  1. Nicole says:

    Huh. Is the high water content perhaps responsible for the fact that I can’t seem to make a non-clotting cream cheese SMBC to save my soul? Anything more than about a 25/75 split with butter just never comes together smoothly.

    • joepastry says:

      That’s almost certainly the reason, though I wonder…if you beat the butter and cream cheese together before you added them to the meringue…that might just work.

      Good luck, Nicole!

  2. Ron says:

    I would also assume that this high water content, and the fact that cream cheese is an emulsion (would other cheeses be considered emulsions as well?) are why one can’t freeze cream cheese as easily as, say a harder, drier cheese. Would that be accurate?

    • joepastry says:

      That’s an interesting question, Ron — the kind I love! Cream cheese is indeed an emulsion (a so-called “milk gel”), and you’re exactly right that it’s this characteristic that makes it unsuited for freezing. Other types of cheese aren’t actually emulsions but rather suspensions (masses of protein and fat with droplets of water distributed throughout). That makes them easier to freeze, but don’t tell a cheese purist that you’re planning to do that, as you’ll get a lecture on how freezing changes both the flavor and texture of cheese. Thanks for the great question!

  3. Julie says:

    While most dairy separates after freezing, I’ve noticed that marscapone, which I think of as Italian cream cheese, freezes perfectly. Any idea why?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Julie!

      Odd as this sounds, mascarpone is more of a true “cheese” than cream cheese. It’s composed of curds of curdled proteins, even though they’re tiny. Those curds stand up to freezing a whole lot better than a gel, which is what cream cheese is. Structurally it has more in common with yogurt than with cheese…and as you’ve probably found out through trial and error, fresh yogurt does not freeze well at all.

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