Cream Cheese: The Perfect Food?

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Cream cheese is one of the most interesting of all cheeses thanks to its distinctive use in a variety of different dishes. It can be eaten as either a savory delight or just as easily fit perfectly into various styles of desserts like carrot cake. It is easy to see how this creamy product is quite versatile, but what exactly is it?

Cream cheese is a soft, neutral-tasting cheese made from cow’s milk and cream. Its subtle sweetness, mild tanginess, and silky smooth texture make it extremely versatile.

In this guide, we are going to look at the role that cream cheese plays in desserts, as well as its history and nutritional benefits. Although not as distinctive as Swiss or cheddar, it is certainly well-known. Read on to find out more. 


bread with cream cheese

Over the years, cream cheese has become a classic for breakfast and at other times, as it can be thrown into many desserts, appetizers, and even dinner items like crab rangoon and creamy pasta dishes. There are hundreds of recipes calling for it online, proving just how popular and diverse this ingredient really is.

The most popular cream cheese today is Philadelphia — not much of a surprise. Being the first brand to come on the market, it is no shock that it still reigns supreme. Even with its immense popularity, and regardless of the brand, there are still a lot of unknown and interesting things to unpack in each container of creamy goodness. 

It is produced with unskimmed cow’s milk and it gets its firm, yet creamy texture from lactic acid. (Lactic acid is formed in sour milk, which is used to create cream cheese.) Don’t worry, however; there is no sour flavor left in the product (depending on how long it’s been sitting in your fridge, that is).

Is Cream Cheese Cheese Or Butter?

Cream cheese and butter have some similar ingredients and nutritional values, which is why they are often compared. Overall, cream cheese is better for those who are wanting to cut back on calories and fat in their diet, but both have their benefits. When looking at the differences, you need to remember that there are different types of each. 

You can get full-cream butter, light butter, full-cream cream cheese, and reduced-fat cream cheese. 

These have varying ingredients and nutritional values, so you do have the option of picking out the one that you prefer the taste of, and going for the healthier option.

You have options with both, so you can pick the one that suits your diet best, and which you don’t mind spreading onto your bagel.

Butter is made in a more simple way, with only sweet cream being churned, and some salt added if it is salted butter, and cream cheese is made from a mixture of cream and milk along with some other ingredients.

As butter is made with cream alone, it does contain more calories and fat, which gives it its rich and creamy taste and texture.

When you are looking for options with the simplest ingredients, full-fat butter, and full-fat cream cheese are the best options, as when you start to reduce the fat content, more ingredients are added in. The ingredients added into reduced-fat cream cheese and light butter become quite extensive, so make sure to read through the ingredient list to be sure of what you are eating.

How To Make Cream Cheese

how to make a cream cheese

It’s actually quite simple to make a good replica at home; though some recipes require a starter culture, the only ingredients you need are cream, milk, an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), and salt. The acid makes the dairy curdle, then the curds are strained from the whey and processed in a food processor until nice and creamy. 

Not only is the method easy, but it also lends itself to lots of customization—feel free to add herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, or whatever floats your boat! This type of homemade cheese can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator, while most of your store-bought packs should be used within 10 days of opening. 

In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup heavy cream (35%), 1 cup milk (2%), 1¼ cup 2% plain yogurt, and ½ tsp. kosher salt.  Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk or cream, which will not curdle properly. 

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t boil over, for about 2 minutes. Add three tablespoons white vinegar, bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, then lower heat to a simmer for three minutes more. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool in the pot for an hour. The hard part is done.

Next, line a fine-mesh strainer with a clean cotton tea towel (or four layers of cheesecloth) and place it over a medium bowl. Pour the mixture into the lined strainer and cover with plastic wrap or a reusable silicone lid (don’t use a plate or something heavy or it will push out too much liquid). Place in the fridge to drain overnight.

History Of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Philadelphia Cream Cheese was invented in New York State, not Philadelphia (confusing, I know). In 1872 William Lawrence, a dairyman from Chester, New York, attempted to make Neufchâtel, a tangy, crumblier cheese product that was popular in Europe at the time. Instead, he accidentally added an excessive amount of cream and created a richer, more spreadable cheese, which would eventually be called “cream cheese”. 

It was not marketed as “Philadelphia Cream Cheese” until 1880. That year, Lawrence partnered with A.L. Reynolds, a cheese distributor in New York to sell larger quantities of the product. At the time, Philadelphia, PA, and the surrounding area had a reputation for its high-quality dairy farms and creamier cheese products, so they decided to use the name “Philadelphia” on the foil-wrapped blocks of their classic product. 

The company went through some changes over the years and the trademarked Philadelphia name was sold to the Phenix Cheese Company in South Edmeston, New York. In 1928, Phenix merged with Kraft to form the Kraft-Phenix Cheese Company. It has remained a staple product in the average household and in many eateries and bagel shops worldwide

Cream Cheese In Baking

When searching for the best type to use you’ll come across two options: a brick and tub container. While it might not seem like there’s much of a difference between the two, there is. A tub container is filled with extremely soft cream cheese which isn’t as pure as the one in a brick. 

When it comes to baking, a brick is ideal because it’s tougher but can add a softer texture to your baked goods. 

While it’s soft, you sometimes want to have it sit out and warm up to room temperature, especially if you’re making frosting for the cake. Softening can also help to quicken up the baking speed. 

Baking with this ingredient is not only easy to do but can add a mouthwatering flavor to your baked goods. While there are some techniques to create a fluffy frosting for a cake and delectable cheesecakes with it, it’s a simple ingredient that will make your baked dishes stand out. If you’d like to learn more helpful baking tips, a culinary class is always a great place to start.

Or, just turn to YouTube. Here is a helpful video on baking with cream cheese:

How To Soften Cream Cheese

To soften, unwrap the block(s) of cream cheese and place it on a microwave-safe plate.

Place the plate into the microwave and heat on 50-75% power for five seconds. Open the microwave, give the block 1/4 turn (meaning, pick it up and flip it over onto its side), and heat again for five seconds. Do this on all four long sides of the block(s).

Typically after about 20-25 seconds, my product is perfect. This time will vary depending on your microwave – simply watch it closely and keep flipping it. The flipping action will help it to evenly soften.

Substitutes For Cream Cheese

A common swap for cream cheese is mascarpone, and for good reason—it’s somehow even richer and creamier and might have you asking why you haven’t long been slathering mascarpone on everything in sight. It’s commonly used in Italian desserts like tiramisu, but it’ll also feel at home, spread on toasted bread or in sweet frosting. 

It’s not quite as salty or tangy, so feel free to add a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice to taste.

Mascarpone will work in most dessert applications, like frostings and no-bake cheesecakes, as well in fillings, most dips, and as a spread.

If it’s the tang you’re after, look no further than yogurt. Greek yogurt is best, and whole milk is even better. Still, you’ll probably want to strain it using cheesecloth to reach that ultra-thick, spreadable consistency—effectively turning the yogurt into hung curd cheese. Once it’s as thick as you like, add a little salt and whip it until creamy using a whisk.


The ingredients in standard commercial cream cheese are simply pasteurized milk and cream, salt, carob bean gum, and cheese culture. A 1-ounce portion provides 99 calories, 1.74 grams of protein, 9.75 grams of fat (5.73 grams as saturated fat), and 1.56 grams of carbohydrate, according to the US Department of Agriculture database. 

It isn’t particularly nutrient-rich, but this same-sized portion does contain 7% of the daily value for vitamin A, which supports immune function, vision, and bone health, as well as smaller amounts of calcium (3%), B vitamins, iron, and magnesium (1% each).

How Many Calories In A Bagel With Cream Cheese?

how many calories

A closer look at a bagel and nutrition facts reveals that a large plain bagel measuring 4 1/2 inches in diameter weighs around 130 grams, or a little more than 4 1/2 ounces. That means one bagel is more than the average adult’s recommended intake of refined carbohydrates for the day.

That 4 1/2-ounce bagel has about 360 calories. Add one tablespoon of cream cheese, and that’s another 70 calories. That bagel delivers far more refined carbohydrates than a slice of white bread, which weighs in at only one ounce and has 79 calories. That means a single bagel equals about four slices of bread.

You might assume that an egg bagel would add a boost of protein because it has an egg in it, but that’s not exactly the case. An egg bagel has 364 calories, as well as the same 14 grams of protein as a plain bagel.

On the other hand, a multigrain bagel might be a better choice. A 4 1/2-ounce serving has only 313 calories and more than 8 grams of fiber. Calories can be lessened by opting for low-fat, which has 31 calories per tablespoon, down from 70 calories in regular.

Is It Bad For Weight Loss?

Cream cheese may be a go-to bagel spread, but if eaten too often, it will go straight to your waistline. Just one tablespoon has 46 calories from fat, and one tablespoon probably isn’t covering your whole bagel. Switch to whipped version for a lighter, reduced-fat option. 

How Much Sodium Is There In Cream Cheese?

One tablespoon has about 40 mg of sodium. So the sodium content is quite substantial, but not excessively high. 

Is It On The Keto Diet?

Yes, it is okay if you are on a keto diet. It is important not to overdo it since the carbohydrate count can add up quite quickly. As long as your macros are 5-10% of your daily carbohydrate intake, you’ll likely be in ketosis. For most people, this will fall between 20g to 50g of net carbs per day. A Ketogenic diet is low in carbs, high in fat, and moderate in protein.

So, if you want to get all of your carbs from a tablespoon of double chocolate cheesecake or a bite of fried chicken, then by all means do it. Are there healthier ways to incorporate carbs into your diet? Of course. However, don’t get hung up on what is or isn’t “Keto”, eating this way shouldn’t be stressful.

How To Store Cream Cheese

When grocery shopping, grab all dairy products including cream cheese last before going to the cashier to check out.

Don’t leave it at room temperature for more than two hours.

Keep it refrigerated. Store in a refrigerator with a temperature of 40º F or lower.

To maintain its consistency, do not freeze cream cheese packed in plastic containers which are softer than foil-wrapped blocks.

Keep the original packaging of foil-wrapped cheese refrigerated if still unopened. Once opened, transfer it to airtight containers, freezer bags, or wraps.

Can You Freeze Cream Cheese?

You might have tried freezing your cream cheese before and noticed it had become crumbly after you thawed it. This is because it has a high moisture content, it is sensitive to the formation and melting of ice crystals. Freezing then thawing it separates its water content from the cheese curds, making it crumbly.

Frozen cream cheese can not only become crumbly but also lose some of its flavors when thawed. However, you can still use it thawed for casseroles.

How Long Can Cream Cheese Sit Out?

Food safety experts with the U.S. government say that two hours is the max that cream cheese should sit at room temperature. Other experts recommend no more than 4 hours. For opened packaged product, it can last for up to two weeks past the expiration date when left in the fridge.

But how long can it sit out? Meaning, what if you accidentally leave it out in the open, may it be on kitchen counters or other rooms besides our fridge?

Leaving it outside is when it spoils quickly. Again, it’s made out of fresh milk, so expect it to only last for two hours after being exposed to room temperature. That’s why many restaurants with buffets have a two-hour rule. If the cheese sits for over that allotted time, it will need to be thrown away to avoid food poisoning.

How To Tell If Cream Cheese Is Bad

If your cheese has turned yellow or you notice patches of discoloration– blue or green mold formation– then it has already gone bad. Dry or slimy texture. Cream cheese should be smooth or creamy. If your cheese feels dry, grainy, chalky, or has a slimy texture, then it is already spoiled.

Fun Facts

Can Dogs Have Cream Cheese?

nine dogs

Like other dairy products, the greatest concern about dogs eating this product is that many dogs are lactose intolerant. If your furry friend cannot properly digest lactose, stay away from the Philly.

If your dog has never had cream cheese or any cheese before, start out with very small amounts and see how he reacts before feeding him anymore. If diarrhea or any other perceived problems occur, stop feeding it to your dog and consult your veterinarian.

Can Cats Eat Cream Cheese?

Cheeses like hard cheddars, gouda, cream cheese, mozzarella, swiss, string cheese, feta, cottage cheese, and parmesan are acceptable cheeses. They also have less lactose, making them easier for your cat to digest. Goat cheese has the least amount of lactose, so is the safest for your kitty.

The salt added to cheese is important to keep in mind. Hard cheeses have more salt than soft cheese like mozzarella, cream cheese, and goat cheese. Too much salt in your cat’s system can cause problems like salt toxicity or poisoning, which is very serious and needs veterinarian care. But, as stated earlier, a tiny amount of cheese offered to your cat (as long as it isn’t in the processed category) won’t pose a risk.

Cream Cheese Shortage

Due to supply chain issues and a cyberattack that occurred in October 2021, cream cheese hasn’t been spared on the list of items affected by the pandemic. Over the holidays at the end of 2021, a shortage of the popular ingredient to make many dips for the big game sprouted and that shortage has persisted into February.   

Across the country, grocery shoppers have noticed empty cream cheese shelves and in Cincinnati, some social media users noted online how the shortage may affect Bengals fans from making Super Bowl dips, including the famous local Skyline Chili dip. 

Can You Eat Cream Cheese When Pregnant?

pregnant woman

When pregnant, you will likely find that it is hard to find a single store-bought cream cheese that contains raw, unpasteurized cream. Presumably, though, such a product might be out there. Likewise, you may come across recipes for making your own cream cheese using raw cream.

In addition, there are products that are much like cream cheese in other countries that might use raw dairy. Probably the most notable example is Neufchâtel cheese, which comes from France and is made with unpasteurized milk.

So if your friend or a vacationing family member brings you back French Neufchâtel cheese and a bottle of French wine, you’ll need to take a pass on both — at least until your bun is out of the oven. (Note that American versions of Neufchâtel cheese are pasteurized and therefore safe.)

Consuming cream cheese made from unpasteurized cream or milk isn’t safe if you’re pregnant, period. It can lead to listeriosis, an infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium and one that poses serious risks to you and your developing baby.

Just make sure you stick to store-bought, pasteurized cheeses to be on the safe side.