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History of Cream Cheese and the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Story

Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

An example of Neufchatel cream cheese.

An example of Neufchatel cream cheese.

History of Cream Cheese

Cream cheese is made from cow’s milk-whole or skim. It is soft, smooth, creamy, white, slightly salty, slightly sweet, rich, and spreadable. It was first made in Europe in the Neufchatel-en-Bray village of Normandy, France—and so naturally it was called French Neufchatel. It had a different texture from the one I described: more semi-soft than soft, and somewhat grainy.

Though first recorded in 1543, it dates back to 1035 and is considered to be one of France’s oldest cheeses. Eaten fresh or after eight to 10 weeks of maturity, the taste is similar to Camembert (another French soft cheese): nutty, salty, and mushroomy.

In 1969, it was granted AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee or in English, Controlled designation of origin) status, a French certification authenticating that the cream cheese was indeed made in Neufchatel region of France. It comes in various shapes and sizes: cylindrical, square, boxed-shaped, and heart-shaped. It could be commercially-, farm- or artisan-made. The artisan version is usually encased in a white rind.

Cream cheese was first documented in England in 1583. The version we are familiar with here in the United States was first made in the late 19th century. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decreed that American commercial cream cheese must have at least 33% milkfat and 55% moisture with a pH balance between 4.4 and 4.9, and the milk must be cow. You can, however, make your own artisan cream cheese using yak, goat, sheep, buffalo, llama, or whatever your animal milk preference, other ingredients, and under whatever production process you choose.

Commercially, lactic acid is added prior to fermentation of the pasteurized and homogenized milk to give the cheese a spreadable texture. To prevent separation or crumbling, as is common with this type of food product, stabilizers such as guar, carob or carrageenan gum are also added.

Example of a current variety of cream cheese.

Example of a current variety of cream cheese.

Varieties, Flavors, and Styles of Cream Cheese

Various varieties and styles of cream cheese are quite popular today. You can find savory flavors, fruit flavors, versions with less salt, less fat, double protein, smooth consistency or whipped.

Shelf Life

If left unopened in the refrigerator or at a maximum of 40 degrees F, most varieties should last up to four weeks. Opened, the shelf life reduces to two weeks. Spoiled cheese with sour smell and taste, and a clumpy, watery, and/ or moldy appearance should be discarded. Moldy portions of hard cheeses can be removed before eating the rest, but this is not recommended for cream cheese or any other soft or semi-soft cheese.

You can freeze cream cheese in its original packaging, but expect a change in texture when thawed. You will need to recover smoothness with a spoon or put it in the microwave for a few minutes then stir. The shelf life of frozen cream cheese is about six months.

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Cream Cheese Substitutions

Keeping in mind that cream cheese has no trans fat and as much as 40% saturated fats, if the fat and caloric contents are too high, you can always substitute. Swapping ideas I have seen include 50-50 parts of yogurt and ricotta cheese; plain cottage cheese or French Neufchatel (which has one-third less calories); a recipe consisting of three-quarter cup of firm tofu, one-quarter cup of margarine, and one tablespoon of fresh or store-bought lemon juice with added salt, sugar, and/ or vinegar to taste, mixed to a creamy consistency, and refrigerated if necessary. Olive oil can be substituted for the margarine in the recipe. You can also simply purchase tofu cheese.


This cheese is not used just for spreading on bagels or as a cheesecake ingredient. You can also use it as an ingredient in cookies, cupcakes, mashed potatoes, dips, stuffed in Danishes, as frosting, and as a thickener for meat and pasta sauces. Overall, it can be used in many breakfast, lunch, or dinner recipes.

The Philadelphia Cream Cheese Story

In the U.S., and perhaps all over the world, when most people think of cream cheese they think of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The man responsible for its creation was William Lawrence. The belief is that he accidentally made it while trying to reproduce French Neufchatel. This was in 1872. Lawrence even purchased a Neufchatel factory.

In 1880, New York cheese distributor Alvah L. Reynolds began distributing Lawrence’s (and his partner’s) cream cheese under the Philadelphia Cream Cheese name. Apparently, that Pennsylvania city was associated with great food during those years.

In 1903, New York Company Phenix Cheese brought the ‘Philly’ label. Subsequently, it was sold to the Kraft Cheese Company in 1928. The same year saw the merger of Phenix and Mondelez International Cheese Company prior to the Kraft sale.

In 1912, James L. Kraft developed cheese pasteurization and the process became part of the production of Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

Ingredients and Nutrients

The main ingredients in the original ‘Philly’ Cream Cheese are pasteurized nonfat cow’s milk, cream (fat from cow’s milk), lactic acid, stabilizing gum (xanthan and/or guar and/or carob), and salt. One ounce contains 9.0 grams (g) of fat, 6.0g of which is saturated, about 80% fat calories, 35 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, sugars are about 1.0 g, carbohydrates are 1.0 g, vitamin A is at 6%, calcium is 2%, sodium is 4%, overall calorie count is 100. Nutrient percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

Flavors, Varieties, and Styles of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

In 1970, Philadelphia Cream Cheese was being sold in tubs as well as the original foil wrapper. In 1977, Philadelphia Light was created. In 2001, we had the Extra Light variety with a fat content of less than 5%. In 2003, Mini tubs came into existence. In 2004 to 2005, new flavors as Cracked Pepper and Garden Vegetables were being sold. There was also a packaging redesign. Then in 2006, the flavor of the Extra Light version was improved. A basil flavor was developed in 2007, and 2009 saw another update in package design.

Today, 2013, we have the choice of the fruit flavors strawberry, pineapple, blueberry; savory flavors spinach and artichoke, sundried tomato and basil, chives, roasted garlic, smoked salmon, chipotle, limited-edition pumpkin spice, and the newest varieties 2x protein, 2x protein with honey, and spicy jalapeño. We also have styles regular smooth and whipped. All of them help add more flavor to our breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals.

Commercial Distribution History

Philadelphia Cream Cheese was first sold in Great Britain in 1960. Now the brand can be purchased in at least 80 countries around the world. Some countries sell it under the name “Philadelphia” without the “cream cheese” part. An article on the website Cheese Market News reported that Kraft had one billion dollars in global sales in the year 2007.

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