Cream cheese (also called soft cheese) is a sweet, soft, mild-tasting, white cheese, defined by the US Department of Agriculture as containing at least 33% milkfat (as marketed) with a moisture content of not more than 55%, and a pH range of 4.4 to 4.9.
Cream cheese is not naturally matured and is meant to be consumed fresh, and so it differs from other soft cheeses such as Brie and Neufchâtel. More comparable in taste, texture, and production methods are Boursin and Mascarpone.
There are French references to cream cheese as early as 1651. References to cream cheese in England start from at least 1754, and recipes follow soon after, particularly from Lincolnshire and the southwest of England.
According to the American food processing company Kraft Foods, the first American cream cheese was made in New York in 1872 by American dairyman William Lawrence. In 1880, ‘Philadelphia’ was adopted as the brand name, after the city that was considered at the time to be the home of top quality food.
The technique is known to have been in use in Normandy since the 1850s, producing cheeses with higher fat content than the US model, and Philadelphia cream cheese has been suggested as a substitute when petit suisse is not available.
Philadelphia is used by some as a generic term for cream cheese, and in Spanish it is translated as queso Filadelfia or "queso crema."
Cream cheese is typically used in savoury snacks of various types (for example, as a spread on bread, bagels, crackers, various types of raw vegetables, etc.), and can be used in cheesecakes and salads. It can also be used to make cheese sauces. It can be a base to some spreads, such as yogurt-cream cheese topping for graham crackers, (10 oz cream cheese, and 1 cup yogurt, whipped.). It is sometimes used in place of butter (or alongside butter in a ratio of two parts cream cheese to one part butter) when making cakes or cookies, and it is also used to make cream cheese icing, which is similar to buttercream icing, (using a ratio of two parts cream cheese to one part butter) which is used to ice carrot cake. It is the main ingredient in crab rangoon, an appetizer commonly served at American Chinese restaurants. It can also be used instead of butter or olive oil in mashed potatoes to create a creamy taste.
Cream cheese is difficult to manufacture. Normally, protein molecules in milk have a negative surface charge, which keeps milk in a liquid state; the molecules act as surfactants, forming micelles around the particles of fat and keeping it in emulsion. Lactic acid bacteria are added to pasteurized and homogenized milk. During the fermentation at around 23 °C, the pH level of the milk decreases. Amino acids at the surface of the proteins begin losing charge and become neutral, turning the fat micelles from hydrophilic to hydrophobic state and causing the liquid to coagulate. If the bacteria are left in the milk too long, the pH lowers further, the micelles attain a positive charge and the mixture returns to liquid form. The key then is to kill the bacteria by heating the mixture to 52-63 °C at the moment the cheese is in an isoelectric point, meaning the state at which half the ionizable surface amino acids of the proteins are positively charged and half are negative. Inaccurate timing of heating leads to an inferior or unusable product.
However, subtle changes in the timing of the process can result in variations in flavor and texture. Furthermore, because cream cheese has a higher fat content than other cheeses, and fat repels water, which tends to separate from the cheese, stabilizers such as guar and carob gums are added to prolong its shelf life.
Improper heat treatment of milk may lead to formation of hard particles of amorphous compacted protein, causing unpleasant grittiness.