Is it cream? Is it cheese? I have been in the cheese business for 25 years and when Taylor asked this question recently, I wasn’t sure if my answer was right. So I polled a few of my cheese buddies to ask them and get a recommendation for a good cream cheese.
Most of my friends answered reluctantly about whether it was a cheese, but all had strong recommendations. To uncover the mystery, I was directed to Mike Baptista from Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor Michigan by my cheese industry pal Carlos Suffront. According to Mike, cream cheese is, indeed, a cheese. It goes through the four stages of cheese making: 1.) acidification; 2) coagulation; 3) drainage; and 4) texturing.
Artisan cream cheese, however, is much different from the mass produced variety. At Zingerman’s, they get the best milk and cream from local dairies, make it in small batches, about 150 – 250 pounds per week. The milk comes in on Monday and the cream cheese is ready on Wednesday. It’s great on a bagel, and Mike also likes it in cheesecake, but I would agree with Mike that stuffed in an olive floating in a Hendrix Martini may be its best use. If you never have tried artisan cream cheese, please treat yourself to some. It has a texture similar to the freshest goat cheese and a nice tang quality that sparks any dish you add it to. A couple to look for are Sierra Nevada Organic Cream Cheese from California and Ben’s Rockland County Cream Cheese from New York.