Cream cheese is among the most versatile cheeses. It is a common ingredient in sweet and savory dishes and has flavors that can be enhanced by adding everything from fresh herbs and vegetables to fruits, chocolate and smoked fish. Cream cheese comes in various types and textures, all available at most supermarkets nationwide.
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Cream Cheese Types
Although most people associate cream cheese with the white spreadable blocks wrapped in foil or packed in plastic tubs, there are several other varieties of cheese that fall into the cream cheese category. Cottage cheese, curd cheese, ricotta and mascarpone are all cream cheeses. All are free of rinds, have mild fragrances and vary in color from snow white to pale yellow. Block cream cheese is also sold whipped for easy spreading, and can come in many flavors, both natural and artificial. Cream cheeses are available in low fat and non-fat varieties in most places, as well.
Neufchatel cheese, the inspiration for conventional block cream cheese, originated in Neufchatel-en-Bray, France in the mid-1500s. Over the next few centuries, it became one of France's most renowned cheeses.
In 1872, William Chester, a New York dairyman, accidentally discovered a cheese making method that produced a creamy mild cheese while he, along with his contemporaries, tried to duplicate the French Neufchatel recipe. He sold it as "cream cheese" to the Empire Cheese Company, who in turn marketed it under the "Philadelphia" brand. James Kraft developed a pasteurizing technique for this new cheese in 1912 and in 1928, the Phenix Cheese Company, owners of Philadelphia, merged with the Kraft Cheese Company.
At its simplest, cream cheese is served as a spread for crackers, bagels, or celery. It also adds richness and flavor to savory sauces. When seasoned with herbs, it can be used to stuff chicken breasts, or it can be mixed with sweeteners and other flavorings for pie and cheesecake fillings. Cream cheese whipped with sugar also makes a quick and easy cake frosting.
Homemade Cream Cheese
Making cream cheese in your home kitchen is easy using one of two methods. The simplest recipe has one ingredient: plain yogurt. Line a colander with muslin or layers of fine cheesecloth, dump in a quart of plain yogurt, cover and let drain into a bowl for at least five hours in the refrigerator. For a more flavorful cream cheese, mix a gallon of whole milk and a quart of buttermilk, heat on the stove until the mixture curdles, and proceed with the draining process. Add salt to taste before packaging in airtight containers.