Shelf Life. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session.

Cream Cheese

By amy • • Apr 18th, 2015 • Category: Cheese, Columns, Dairy, Uncategorized, spreads

Insofar as a product sold in blocks and tubs can be said to have a personality, cream cheese displays a New York state of mind. The soft cheese was perfected and developed in nineteenth century New York State, thanks to a conflation of manufacturing moxie, eye-catching advertising, and an abundance of grazing pastures. Later, as the Jewish community let its bagels roam free and the pioneers of cheesecake duked it out in Manhattan (Lindy’s versus Junior’s versus Ratner’s) the soft stuff became part of the average New York City household. The cheap and cheerful staple acquired a sort of jazzy downtown ubiquitousness – Shelf Life pictures Sidney Falco existing on cream cheese and bagels in The Sweet Smell Of Success, and we can well imagine that Madonna fueled her early days with popcorn and cream cheese.

Legend has it that the creation of cream cheese involved a touch of NY-style hustle. The tangy spread was developed in 1872, in the Catskills. A creamery owner named Green hired a European cheese maker to teach him how to make Neufchatel-like soft cheese. While the two men were conferring in the barn, a neighbor, William Lawrence, dropped by for a spot of eavesdropping. Williams rushed home with the formula and immediately went into production. Eventually a number of cream cheese businesses flourished in the area, until Kraft cornered the market in 1924.

But if New York rocked the block, where does Philadelphia fit in? The latter was once renowned for its premium packaged foods; NY cheesemakers hoped to borrow a little cachet.

To this day Philadelphia remains the 800 pound cow in the room: is Philly cream cheese really the best in its category? Why are 48% of test subjects able to pick out Philadelphia cream cheese in a blind taste test?

For the answers to these and other spreadable questions Shelf Life turned to our panel of expert judges: Andree Begosy, Producer, Food Television; Sarah Ladouceur, pastry chef and product developer; and Sandra Watson, food stylists to the stars, currently creating magic on Curtis Stone’s cookbook tour; all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars.

Brand One

President’s Choice
Original Cream Cheese
250 g, $3.89
available at Loblaws stores and wherever President’s Choice brand is sold
for more information visit

Andree: It’s so dense it almost thuds! Brand One has all the right points – nice texture, very spreadable, and the tanginess is there. I would put it on a bagel, or mix in my own flavours – it’s totally versatile. Having said, it seems a bit middle of the road for me; not great but not bad either.

Sarah: I agree; Brand One is pretty much your textbook definition of classic cream cheese. It’s got a sweet tangy smell and creamy white appearance, and there’s a slightly grainy, curiously plasticky texture. Brand One is all about baking. I bet it’s Philadelphia brand.

Sandra: A lot of brands might not hold together successfully enough to make, say, a cheese ball, but I think this product would work – a salmon cheese ball with dill might be a good place to start. Or a cheese cake. Brand One has a rounded flavour and texture, and the tang isn’t too strong. I’d say this is Philly.

Brand One Total TWELVE STARS ************

Brand Two

Organic Cream Cheese
200g, $7.98
available at health & fine food stores
for more information visit

Andree: The yellow crumbly appearance made me think I wasn’t going to like it – but I do. Brand Two has a very fatty taste, maybe a %35 cream or butter content, and it leaves a light trace of lactose on the tongue. The texture is not knife-friendly – you almost need a spoon.

Sarah: Not a good visual impression; Brand Two could be a No Name product. But it tastes very rich, almost like whipped butter, and it’s smoother than it looks. I know exactly what I’d do with it: find some super dark chewy rye bread and tomato slices with lots of black pepper.

Sandra: If you mixed in some roasted red peppers you could make a nice dip with Brand Two. In terms of texture, there seems to be zero gum or additives in there. It has a light, neutral smell but quite a full fat decadent taste – I would buy this product.

Brand Two Total THIRTEEN STARS *************

Brand Three

Philadelphia Cream Cheese
250g, $2.99
widely available
for more information visit

Andree: This has to be one of the lower grade cream cheeses on the market. It appears very mass produced: smooth and off white, with a slightly sour aroma. The texture is grainy and gummy and the taste is unremarkable.

Sarah: For me Brand Three has a sour, salty, slightly chemical-ish taste and smell … I’m not a fan.

Sandra: Too bad, so sad, Brand Three doesn’t impress me. Whereas Brand Two has a yellow appearance that nobody minds because it tastes so good, this cheese has a less appealing yellow tone, and a grainy mouth texture.

Brand Three Total FOUR STARS ****

Brand Four

Western Creamery
Organic Cream Cheese
250g, $4.69
widely available in Ontario
for more information visit

Andree: This is like your favourite mass market cream cheese after an upgrade– it’s the artisanal version. Creamy, fluffy, smooth mouth feel, with a little salt in the taste – Brand Four feels like it has been created by people who get it.

Sarah: I find it very airy, very whipped, very light – perhaps a little too much oxygen for me. And its aggressive tanginess is making me suspicious – maybe they’ve taken some fat out and replaced it with tang? Having said all that there’s nothing really wrong with Brand Four.

Sandra: I don’t object to the tang – it reminds me of a European soft cheese. I like the fact that it has a light texture yet tastes sharp like actual cheese. Brand Four is my favourite.

Brand Four Total THIRTEEN STARS *************

Results: Pick a truism: “There’s no accounting for taste.” or “You get what you pay for.” Shockingly, our panel dissed the king of cream cheeses, perhaps explicable in the light of the fact that Philadelphia Cream Cheese is, in fact, cheap. High scoring President’s Choice brand was best value at $3.89 for a quality product. Arla and Western Organic tied for top place.

Off The Menu: In cheese related news, our attention was caught by this U.S. news item: last year, nine couples named their baby ‘Cheese’ (according to Shelf Life wonders: how long before the mythical Suzy Creamcheese becomes a reality?

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