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 if cream cheese is really cheese, as well as get a recommendation for a good, craft-made version.
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, our bagel’s best friend 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 its’s 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 other cream cheeses to look for are Sierra Nevada Organic Cream Cheese from California and Ben’s Rockland County Cream Cheese from New York.
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