Food history: cream cheese

We explored the history of cream cheese a tiny bit with the difference between cream cheese and Neufchâtel, but let’s take a closer look.

a split raisin bagel on a napkin with cream cheese spread on one half, the other half down, with a small individual container of cream cheese and a knife

In the early 1870s, a dairy farmer named William Lawrence added cream to Neufchâtel in Chester, New York. He became the first person to mass produce cream cheese. In 1880, it was given the name Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which of course is still around today.

In 1912, James Kraft found a way to pasteurize cream cheese, and soon other companies began manufacturing the product in addition to Philadelphia Cream Cheese (shortly thereafter owned by Kraft). Although, Philadelphia remains the superior brand.

What I was really interested in specifically with the history of cream cheese, was how it became so popular in recent years. It used to be a spread on a bagel, period. Now, it’s an ingredient in so many other things, like baked goods, such as frosting or cheesecake.

But it’s also used in dips. And casseroles. Sandwiches. Even salads.

I wasn’t able to decipher a deciding point in time when cream cheese morphed from a spread into this versatile food item, but I did find some interesting facts.

For one thing, not just cream cheese, but soft cheeses in particular are on the rise.

And also:

  • The most popular cheese is mozzarella, followed by Cheddar, followed by cream cheese, as of 2012.
  • In 2013, Philadelphia Cream Cheese launched a campaign to rid the product’s image as a processed food.
  • From January 2013 to March 2014 roughly 74% of Americans had cream cheese in their households.

While cream cheese has become even more popular as of late, its overall sustained adoration may be in part to the continued popularity of cheesecake.

Cheesecake was reportedly born in New York City, circa 1929. While many, many wonderful cheesecakes exist today, what’s beautiful about New York cheesecake is that it’s simple. Nothing fancy. In other words, it lets its cream cheese base shine.

PS: What happened to those Philadelphia cream cheese cooking creams? I loved the Southwest one and haven’t seen it in the store in years.