The surprising history of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Philadelphia Cream Cheese was not invented in Philadelphia. Or anywhere else in Pennsylvania, for that manner.

Today says that the creation of Philadelphia Cream Cheese was a happy accident. William Lawrence, a dairyman from Chester, New York, came up with it in an attempt to re-create Neufchâtel cheese, "a tangy, crumblier cheese product that was popular in Europe at the time." In the process of experimentation, it seems Lawrence "accidentally added a bit too much cream." The happy result? A cheese that was richer and "more spreadable."

Soon after, he was advised by a cheese distributor to brand the new product "Philadelphia," due to that city's then-positive correlation to high-quality food, especially dairy (via Delishably). (Though honestly, Chester Cream Cheese has a certain near-alliterative lilt to it.) Kraft purchased Philadelphia Cream Cheese in 1928, and the product has monopolized the world of cream cheese ever since. (It should be noted, though, that spreadable, cream cheese-like products actually have origins dating back to England in the late-1500s, according to HuffPost.)

Philadelphia Cream Cheese's lasting popularity

Bon Appetit reports yet another marketing maneuver to capitalize on the surging success of the new product. Not only was Philadelphia Cream Cheese "one of the first branded food products in America," according to author Stella Parks, but recipes for "Philadelphia cake" began to be published in various magazines in the early 1990s, advertising a new dessert that called for five-and-a-half packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese to create. Of course, this was the classic cheesecake that we now know and love, and it propelled the product (you might even say "spread it") even farther into the realms of home cooking and entertaining. Philadelphia Cream Cheese was soon positioned as an absolute necessity in kitchens across the country. Beyond cheesecake, Philadelphia Cream Cheese also then became a staple for dips, sauces, desserts, sushi, and more.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. There are some changes in the 2020 version, of course, including salt, xanthan gum, guar gum, and carob bean gum, according to Today, which have helped increase the product's stability and shelf life. Furthermore, Edible Manhattan notes that according to the USDA, cream cheese must be at least 33 percent fat. Beyond these customizations, though, the product we use today is pretty much what it was over a century ago.

Nowadays, there are myriad brands, flavors, and variations of cream cheese, but when it comes to baking and/or cooking with cream cheese, Philadelphia still reigns supreme.