Cream cheese is similar to Neufchatel from France except that cream cheese has more butterfat - starting with a fat enriched milk of about 7-10%. When this has ripened and the whey drained, the final cheese will have a much higher butterfat content, depending on its final moisture.
Cream cheese also has a fresh acidity, due to the dairy bacteria converting lactose to lactic acid. This helps to balance the rich flavors from the cream.
However, if you are looking for a lighter cheese then you can easily make a leaner cheese by using less cream or a lower butterfat % cream (see my cream content chart here).
Lowering the fat content of the cream too much tends increasingly to cause grainy texture and crumbly body, while increasing the fat content excessively tends to cause excessive smoothness and stickiness.
Cream cheese was originally produced in the US in New York State during the late 1800’s. It originally acquired its association with “Philadelphia,” not because it was made there but because at that time “Phillie” was known as the home of top quality food.
In the commercial process, 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, xanthan gum, and carob gums are added to prolong its shelf life. The commercial version tends to be essentially an industrial concoction of milk, enough cream to claim it's there and all sorts of gums and stabilizers to make it appear like what it isn't.
Here is an ingredient list from the industry standard Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese: Pasteurized Nonfat Milk, and Milkfat, Cheese Culture, Salt, Stabilizers (Xanthan Gum, and/or Carob Bean Gum, and/or Guar Gum).
It is also cooked to much higher temperatures commercially to speed the process up. This is good for the producer's cash flow but not so good for the final product.
Because we try to keep these additions from our food sources here, our process will not include anything but great milk and cream, a traditional dairy culture and a few drops of rennet.
You will also find in the process instructions a rough guide for ripening and draining time, but more importantly, I have provided descriptions and visual cues to:
- Accommodate the differences in milk quality as well as milk/cream content.
- Allow you to produce exactly the style of cream cheese you want