What Is Cream Cheese? And Is There Anything You Can’t Put It On?

What goes equally well with an everything bagel, a sushi roll, a fruit tray, and a crockpot full of chicken? There’s only one answer: cream cheese. This versatile, magical food manages to wiggle its way into all sorts of dishes and makes them so much better. So, let’s honor this titan of foods, this monument to ingenuity, by learning as much as we can about it.

What is cream cheese? Is cream cheese cheese?

Cream cheese falls under the umbrella of “fresh cheeses,” which are typically very soft and spreadable. They go through very little processing or aging and are intended to be eaten as soon as possible after production. This category also includes things like cottage cheese, queso fresco, mascarpone, and paneer, among others. 

The FDA has strict standards for what is and isn’t cream cheese. Cream cheese must have 33% milk fat, a moisture content no higher than 55%, and a ph level of 4.4 to 4.9. I never would have thought that such constraints could be placed on such a versatile cheese, yet here we are, discussing moisture content. That should also answer the question: Is cream cheese dairy? According to the FDA, it has to be. Although you can buy vegan cream cheese. The FDA just might not agree that it is, in fact, cream cheese. 

Cheese genius William A. Lawrence is credited as the inventor of cream cheese in 1973. It happened in a way so many geniuses come up with their inventions: by accident. He was trying to make a brie-type cheese called Neufchâtel but accidentally added too much cream. It makes you wonder if it was really an accident, or was he was just a madman with a cavalier attitude towards milk fats. No matter what his reasoning, statues should be erected in his memory.

To further support my personal madman theory, the New York-based cheesemaker decided, in 1870, to brand his invention Philadelphia Cream Cheese, despite the fact that it had nothing to do with the City of Brotherly Love. A truly psychotic decision, but it worked—Philadelphia Cream Cheese thrives to this day and is the most popular and accessible brand on the market.

How is cream cheese made?

The process is quite simple: A mixture of milk and cream goes through a curdling process, where some type of acid is added to the milk to lower its pH (milk, famously, is basic). This creates curds, which are then drained from the whey and heated along with stabilizers—special food wizardry that helps the cream cheese keep its structure. Toss it all into a food processor until it’s as smooth as… well, cream cheese.

Many commercial brands are innovating on the classic cream cheese, mixing in both sweet and savory add-ins like strawberry or chives and onions. There’s also whipped cream cheese, which has much lighter consistency than its predecessor. But nothing can really beat the original, piled high on a bagel. If you’ve never had a New York bagel with cream cheese, you simply must. The amount of cream cheese they use is pornographic.

Does cream cheese go bad?

Yes, as a milk product, cream cheese definitely has a shelf life. In fact,cream cheese goes bad quicker than most other cheeses. As a fresh cheese, there are far fewer preservatives in it when compared to hard cheeses, so it should be eaten as quickly as possible (which shouldn’t be a problem). Commercially manufactured cream cheese is going to have a slightly longer shelf life than one you’d make at home yourself, but even then, you’ve got less than two weeks before it starts to turn.

Is there anything I shouldn’t put cream cheese on?

No. I’ve done the math, folks. There’s no food that I can think of that would not be enhanced with a glob of cream cheese, and I challenge you all to try to think of one. You can’t. Give up now. Submit to the cream cheese.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • I don’t think cream cheese ever goes bad as your article stated. Over the years it has lasted for months, even after opening, in my refrigerator. I mostly buy the Philadelphia brand in a tub or the store brand. I think because it is so salty it rarely goes bad.