Cream cheese is a product that many love and is widely sold in all grocery stores. It is a soft, spreadable white cheese with a high fat content and has a rich creamy taste that is mildly acidic, similar to that of Greek yogurt. Its soft and creamy characteristics allow it to be used as a spread and give particular foods the creamy like texture. It differs from other types of cheese because it is not naturally aged and is meant to be eaten fresh; making it similar to Boursin and Mascarpone cheese. Cream cheese is relatively more difficult to manufacture than most other cheeses because small adjustments in the timing of the development process can result in distinctions of flavour and texture.    Included in many recipes, cream cheese is highly versatile and can be used as a spread to add flavour to the food or can be combined in cooking to provide a creamy and smooth mouth feel. It can also be used in savoury dishes and desserts such as cheesecakes, cupcake frostings, dips and even in sushi!
Have you ever wondered how cream cheese is processed? What are the different methods of cream cheese processing? Why and what you can do to extend the cream cheeses shelf life? Which cream cheese is best for you? By the end of this reading, you will be able to answer these questions and more.
Records indicate that soft cheeses have been consumed as far back as in ancient Rome and Greece; Europe however, is widely regarded as the birth place of the first soft, creamy cheese,  with documents indicating its existence from as early as the 1650's.  The first commercial preparation of cream cheese came from an American dairyman, William Lawrence, in New York, 1872. While he was struggling to produce a type of French cheese called Neufchaetel, Lawrence discovered a method for making a soft yet creamy cheese. Soon, this innovative cheese product was distributed in foil wrappers as the Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, under the Empire Company and became the product that we know today. Kraft.
Major Brands of Cream Cheese
Kraft’s Philadelphia Brand cream cheese currently owns nearly 70% of the $800 million cream cheese market. After Kraft, Schreiber is the second largest producer of cream cheese, with an estimated/approximately 25% of the market. 
Being a dairy product, the main ingredient in cream cheese is milk. The basic method of cream cheese preparation starts when cheese starter culture being added to pasteurized and homogenized cow's milk/cream, followed by fermentation. This mixture is then heated to the right temperature and is further processed. Apart from milk and cheese culture, commercial cream cheese also contains various other additives and preservatives. Some of the latest versions of cream cheese even contains different flavourings, such as fruits, herbs, salmon and etc.
Compared to hard cheeses, cream cheese has a lower protein content because a one-ounce (28g) serving of cream cheese will only contain one gram of protein. In additional to low protein, traditional cream cheese contains 40% saturated fat, so care should be given as to the amount consumed. .
Cream cheese, as the name suggests, is made from pure cream or cream and milk mixtures. Milk that is used must be pasteurized and standardized with a maximum of 3.5% fat.  Cream, on the other hand, generally contains 11-20% fat due to legal requirement of 11% for cheese-making. While there are several different methods for cream cheese production, the main steps include heat treatment, homogenization, and fermentation.
1. Standardization makes sure the cream should contain 11-20% fat.
2. Pasteurize the cream (at 70°C for 30 minutes).
3. Homogenize the cream at 1000-1500 psi (6900 - 10300 kPa) at 63°C and cool to 30°C.
4. Add starter and rennet (30 kg of starter and 1cc of rennet per 1000 kg of cream) 30 kg (lb) starter and 1 cc rennet per 1000 kg (lb) of cream.
5. When pH has reached 4.6, the curd is stirred thoroughly to remove lumps. Water is then added at 76°C directly to the curd until the temperature reaches 51°C. By the end the curd should be smooth and has a creamy texture.
6. The curd and whey is then poured into sterilized draining bags.
7. Whey is allowed to drain for approximately 2 hours until the correct consistency is obtained
8. The curd is salted with 0.75% salt.
9. Cheese is packed in appropriate-sized moulds lined with Saran, pressed lightly and chilled to 2C. Yield: 2.7-3.1 kg of cheese per kg of fat.
(Procedure taken from University of Guelph - Food Science Department)
The process of ultrafiltration is performed during cream cheese production, which allows for the formation of cream cheese without the undesired whey. Unlike the conventional method, which produces denatured milk protein via heat treatment, ultrafiltration prevents the absorption of insoluble whey protein by filtering. After ultrafiltration, the milk/cream should achieve certain levels of solid and protein content. . The required ingredients for ultrafiltration include whole milk, cream and whey protein solids (whey protein powder or a concentrate of whey). Ultrafiltration yields a retenate, having the butterfat and non-fat solids content required for cream cheese manufacture.
1. Pasteurization is done with 11% fat cream.
2. 1% lactic starter is added to the pasteurized cream.
3. Ultrafiltration: ultra filter 3.3x based on fat content via the help of ultra filter membrane technology( high efficiency membranes and low operating pressures combined to achieve the ultrafiltration)This provides 30 kg of pre-cheese per 100 kg 11% cream. The pre-cheese will contain 36.5% fat (11 x 3.3), about 11% protein and about 48% total solids.
4. The pre-cheese is then allowed to ripen to a pH of around 5 to 6.
5. Additives addition: salt (0.16 kg per 100 kg original cream).
6. Additives addition: locust bean gum per (0.16 kg100 kg original cream).
7. Temperature is then raised to 54°C which allows homogenization to take place.
9. After homogenization, packaging serves as the last step of the ultrafiltration.
(Procedure taken from University of Guelph - Food Science Department)
Comparison of the Two Methods
Cheese undergoes similar steps in the traditional and ultrafiltration (pasteurization, homogenization, fermentation) processing. The main difference is that ultrafiltration has an extra step that filters out the serum, which prevents the production of unwanted whey protein. The different processing method results in different protein and solid content of the cream/milk, depending on the method used. This leads to the formation of different cheese matrix structures, depending on each respective method. Ultrafiltration is generally preferred because it is a simple automated process with compact procedures and relatively low equipment costs.. Ultrafiltration also reduces cooling and heating costs, lowers the amount of rennet needed and increases yield due to better retention of whey proteins in the cheese. 
Preparation of Cream-Milk Mixture
- Standardization of milk: Initial step of the whole cream cheese processing for both traditional and ultrafiltration methods. The purpose is to bring the content of protein and solids within the milk/cream to a certain level.
- Pasteurization: Required heat treatment to inactivate the enzymes and microorganisms that are present in the milk before the milk/cream can be further processed.
- Homogenization: Breaks down and blends fat globules in milk. Without homogenization, the fat globules of milk are large enough to separate from the milk. Depending on the types of cheese, some cheese might have greater degrees of homogenization than others. This will produce different textures of cream cheese. Cream cheese processing employs homogenization to keep the fat molecule blended within the milk.
Rennet and Starter Cultures
After pasteurization of cream or cream-milk mixture, rennet and lactic acid bacteria are often added.
Rennet acts as a source of coagulating enzymes. The main one involved in all cheese-making is Chymosin, which originated from the calf stomach. Rennet creates a firmer coagulum for the milk-cream mixture, but it can be omitted in some processing methods, as the coagulation can be aided with stabilizers instead.
The lactic acid starter culture used will usually contain lactic acid-producing bacteria from the genus Lactococcus or Leuconostoc..It is added in such an amount that the culture becomes the dominant portion of microbial population. The perfect mixture is generally kept as a secret within the company. The most widely used bacteria species is Lactococcus lactis. While other strains of lactic acid bacteria can be found in our intestinal tract, Lactococcus doesn't normally colonize in human tissues. L. lactis bacteria is ideal for cheese-making as it can tolerate a range of pH, salts, and temperatures. L. lactis can be used as a single strain starter culture or in a mixed strain culture with other lactic acid bacteria. Packets of mesophilic starter cultures can be purchased from markets for creating home-made cream cheese and are typically mixtures. One such example is provided on the right.
Following the addition of rennet and starter cultures, a short-set or long-set incubation is taken place until the pH reaches 4.5-4.8, where the typical pH of cream cheese lies. A longer incubation often presents a higher taste profile.
|Culture||Temperature (oC)||Time (hours)|
Coagulation is accomplished through a biochemical process involving enzymes present in rennet as well as lactic acid bacteria.
Milk protein molecules normally have a negative charge.  The repulsion from this surface charge keeps the milk as a liquid.  Specifically, the casein molecules act as surfactants and form micelles around the fat globules to keep the mixture in suspension. Chymosin, the proteolytic enzyme in rennet, breaks down these casein micelles in milk and destroys the layer that bears the electrical charge. As a result, a firm gel structure which encapsulates milk fat globules is formed.  Spaces in the thin gel matrix are filled with whey, a liquid milk serum containing lactose, minerals, vitamins and whey proteins.  Due to the addition of rennet in the traditional method, processing must include a procedure in which the whey is drained from the cheese.
This technique alone works well to produce completely solid cheeses such as cheddar and mozzarella.  Production of cream cheese is difficult because it requires an additional chemical component. During production, when lactic acid bacterium is added to the cream-milk mixture, it will grow rapidly to convert lactose and glucose to lactic acid.  The low pH environment generated during fermentation causes some of the surface proteins to change to positive charges. This creates an attraction between the negatively charged proteins and the positively charged ones, coagulating the liquid.  As previously mentioned, the pH of cream cheese is typically 4.4-4.9.
Temperature is a key determinant in the quality of cream cheese. The key with coagulation was to reach a neutral state to coagulate the liquid. This state is called the isoelectric state, where half of the proteins are positive and half of them negative, balancing the charges. If the lactic acid bacteria were left to grow beyond this point, the continuous acid production would allow all the proteins to obtain positive charges. The mixture is then reverted to liquid form. Consequently, heat treatment is used at the isoelectric state to kill the bacteria and stop acidification. Generally, temperature of the heat treatment is between 52-63 degrees.  However, it is often difficult to anticipate the time of heat treatment. Small changes in timing of this process can lead to variations in flavour and texture, sometimes resulting in an inferior or unusable product. 
Oxygen Level and Salt
Oxygen requirement may change depending on the particular procedure and the organisms involved in fermentation. For example, lactic acid bacteria generally do not require oxygen to produce acid, but also are not killed by oxygen like anaerobic bacteria. Some species of Lactobacilli, however, are microaerophilic, which means they grow in the presence of low level of oxygen.  In such cases, oxygen can promote NADH oxidases present in the bacteria, leading to increased formation of metabolites used in fermentation.  Thus, oxygen content can be a limiting factor in the amount of fermentation products produced. It must be monitored as small deviations can dramatically influence the amount of metabolites generated and the energy released from the reaction. 
Salt is generally added towards the end of the processing procedure to bind water and further limit the growth spoilage-causing microorganisms, especially those that were not stopped by acid produced in fermentation. 
Additives and Stabilizers
Health Canada is responsible for establishing standards for the safety and nutritional quality of all foods sold in Canada. The department exercises this mandate under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act and pursue its regulatory mandate under the Food and Drug Regulations.
Below is a table summarizing the food additives categories allowed in cream cheese.  Select examples are provided with the maximum level of use.
|Food Additive Category||Example||Maximum Level of Use|
|Coloring agents||Aluminum metal||Good Manufacturing Practice|
|Emulsifying, gelling, stabilizing, and thickening agents||Calcium Citrate||4.0%|
|pH adjusting agents, acid-reacting materials, and water correcting agents||Acetic Acid||Good Manufacturing Practice|
|Lactic Acid||Good Manufacturing Practice|
|Calcium Carbonate||Good Manufacturing Practice|
Cream cheese is not matured or hardened, as are other cheeses. Instead, it is slightly firmed by the introduction of lactic acid. Frequently, less expensive brands will add stabilizers to acquire the necessary firmness due to the fact that the high fat content of the milk product is prone to separating. In addition, emulsifiers and stabilizers contribute to the mouth feel, texture, water holding capacity, whipp ability and protein stability.
One popular example used for cream cheese is Xanthan Gum. This stabilizer prevents the separation of fat from water in the cheese, maintaining the creamy texture and helps prolong the shelf life of cream cheese. Other stabilizers that work in the same ways are, Carobean Gum, Loctus Bea Gum, Sodium Alginate and Pectin. .
Preservatives can be categorized into three general types: antimicrobials that inhibit growth of bacteria, yeasts, or molds; antioxidants that slow air oxidation of fats and lipids, which leads to rancidity; and a third type that blocks the natural ripening and enzymatic processes that continue to occur in foodstuffs after harvest. 
- Asorbic Acid (Vitamin A): main preservative used in cream cheese
- Potassium Sorbate: used to prevent mold growth. 
- Sodium Benzoate: inhibits growth and survival of microorangisms
- Calcium Propionate: Prevents microorganisms from growing
- Nisin: Prevents microorganisms from growing
- Natamycin: Antifungal agent
- Sodium Chloride (Table Salt): Inhibits growth of bacteria
- Sodium Tripolyphosphate: may be used as a preservative in non-fat cream cheese
- Sodium Phosphate: promotes smooth texture and emulsification
- Sodium Caseinate: promotes smooth texture and emulsification
Whey Protein concentrate is used as a protein supplement for supplying the protein lost during coagulation and for the purpose of advertisement on the nutritional value of the product.
Calcium Phosphate is used to replace the loss of calcium due to lactic acid and also for nutritional value expectations of the product.
During the manufacturing process, quality deficiencies in texture can occur due to subtle changes in protocols. Typical deficiencies include lumps, graininess, wheying off, poor spread ability and after-taste. The important factors that are controlled to avoid these are fat content in milk, homogenisation pressure, incubation temperature, and pH at breaking fermentation (the timing of the heat-kill procedure). 
Standard of Composition
Standard of composition varies among countries.
According to the Canadian Food and Drug Directorate, cream cheese may contain not more than 0.5% stabilizer and shall not contain more than 55% moisture and not less than 30% milk fat.  The United States Department of Agriculture specified the same standard for moisture content but a higher level of minimum milk fat (33%).  In Britain, the fat content of traditional cream cheese is capped at 45-65%. Anything higher is considered double cream cheese. 
Cream cheese must be refrigerated at all time after processing otherwise it will go bad and mold will soon quickly grow. In order to prevent this from happening, there are packaging procedures that are implemented. Additionally, companies must meet the food labeling requirements set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These are described more in detail below.
There are two popular methods of cream cheese processing. There is the hot-pack and cold-pack method; these are a form of canning (“pre-sealing the food in containers prior to heating”). The hot-pack method kills further lingering bacteria and can extend the refrigerator shelf life of the cream cheese for approximately 3-6 months. The cold-pack method is often referred to as the raw-pack method, which involves canning uncooked food in the container and sterilizing it in boiling water or steam. This process reduces the refrigerated shelf life of cream cheese to a maximum 3 weeks.
Cream cheese can be preserved in a plastic container or a foil packaging in a brick shape. Typically, brick packaged cream cheeses are meant to be used as part of recipes that calls for huge amounts of cream cheese, such as cheesecake, cake frosting, or dips. Cream cheese that is sold in plastic containers are usually used as spreads for breads and bagels, which does not call for a lot of cream cheese and can be continue to be stored in the plastic containers.
There are several different food labeling requirements that must be strictly followed as identified on the CFIA website. The producers must clearly identify:
1. The common name of the food 2. The net quantity 3. Name and address (the person(s) responsible for the product) 4. List of ingredients 5. The nutrition facts table 6. The products durable life date 7. Storage instructions (only if the products storage life is 90 days or less) 8. Bilingual labeling -i.e. in both French and English 9. The % of milk fat
Once the product contains all of the information necessary it can be put on the shelves.
Prolonging Shelf Life
The foil packaging in the brick-like cream cheeses act as a barrier for the cream cheese, and helps reduce oxidation, thus keeping the cream cheese fresh for a longer period of time. The sealed plastic containers ensure that the moisture content is kept and shields the cream cheese from light and air, thus preventing the growth of mold, yeast and bacteria.
Due to the nature of fresh cheese, cream cheese will not keep very long once the packaging has been opened. The shelf life is approximately two to four weeks, given that the cream cheese is shielded from light and air, and uncontaminated. According to Kraft, Philadelphia Cream Cheese can be kept for a month after the expiration date, given that it is refrigerated at temperatures 40°F and below. Spoilage may be caused by micro-organisms such as fungi, spore-forming bacteria, mold, and byssochlamys nivea. Cream cheese that has spoiled will appear curdled and watery or dry looking. It may taste bitter, sour, "yeasty" and may develop mold.
Spoilage can happen during the manufacturing process when lactic acid bacteria starts ripening at 15°C and is contaminated by the heat-resistant mold, byssocholamys nivea. The mold is able to grow in reduced oxygen atmospheres, so it is difficult to eliminate once it is present in the cream cheese.
Storage and Consumption
As cream cheese is a fresh cheese, traditional cream cheese processing does not allow for a long shelf life and cream cheese can be stored for two to four weeks. Given modern technology now, the shelf life can be extended via the "hot pack" processing method, which kills more bacteria than the traditional "cold pack" processing method. To help extend the shelf life of cream cheese, it is necessary to keep it in temperatures of 40°F or below and make sure the cream cheese is not being exposed to unnecessary light and air, which will promote growth of acid-tolerant psychrotrophic yeasts and mold. Even though most molds grow in cream cheese are harmless if consumed, but it does indicate contamination of the cream cheese. Similar to fresh mozzarella, the high content of water present in cream cheese provides a easier environment for mold to habit. Because of the high water content the appearance of a small spot of mold on the cream cheese indicates the cream cheese as a whole is contaminated with microorganisms. Therefore it would be unwise to consume mold-contaminated cream cheese. During extended periods of refrigeration, water may appear on the top of the cream cheese. This water does not indicate that the cream cheese has gone bad, and thus, it can be mixed back into the cream cheese as it is not harmful and does not affect the taste.
Cream cheese does not freeze well and ones that are frozen will give a crumbly and lumpy texture. After being thawed, cream cheese will not have the velvety characteristic and may also appear curdled. It is generally advised not to freeze cream cheese. However, cream cheese that has been used in recipes are considered acceptable to be frozen. Examples include baked and chilled cheesecakes, though the texture of the cheesecake may be altered once it is thawed.
Various Forms of Cream Cheese
Cottage Cheese This is a cheese curd product that is drained but not pressed so there is still small amounts of whey left in the end product. The curd is washed to remove the acidic taste. When cottage cheese is whipped, it will provide the taste and texture found in regular cream cheese. It is often used as a substitute for cream cheese, due to the low-fat nutritional advantage.
Low-Fat Cream Cheese Low-fat cream cheese, also known as the American Neufchâtel cheese, has a much lower fat content than the standard cream cheese (by Canadian regulation: standard cream cheese must not contain more than 55% moisture, nor contain less than 30% milk fat.) Low-fat cream cheese has a fat content of about 23%. Low-fat cream cheese will also have a higher moisture content than the normal cream cheese in order to replace the loss of fat. It undergoes similar processing as normal cream cheese (pasteurization, homogenization, addition of start culture/rennet, addition of additives and stabilizer, mix ), but is further processed to remove the fat content.
Soy-Based Cream Cheese Soy-based cream cheese was developed for vegans or consumers who are lactose-intolerant. It is formed to represent the regular cream cheese's characteristics. Texture and taste is the most important observed characteristics when developing soy based cream cheese. The choice of soy bean cream cheese has more of a nutritional advantage, due to the large amount of protein, compared to other alternatives of cream cheese. 
Mascarpone Cheese This expensive Italian soft cheese is considered a triple cream cheese and is formed with cream and acetic or citric acid. It is a cheese that can be easily made, and gives a richer and smoother taste than regular cream cheese. It is often used in dips, toppings and baking, For example, one well known product is tiramisu, where mascarpone cheese is the main ingredient.
Flavoured Cream Cheese Flavoured cream cheese is a softer, more spreadable type of cream cheese that includes a variety of flavours, and is used as a spread for bagels and bread. Different colours might be present in this type of cream cheese due to the various ingredients, flavoring, and coloring added to increase aesthetic appeal. Flavoured cream cheese is stored in plastic containers due to its soft texture. Various flavours have been developed, popular ones including chive & onion, garden vegetable, herb & garlic, smoked salmon, roasted red pepper, strawberry, pineapple, and etc. Whipped cream cheese can be categorized under flavored cream cheese as well, due to the addition of flavor, and change in texture.
Cream cheese, with its many uses in cooking, has a long and rich history. Like other cheeses, this soft white cheese undergoes procedures such as pasteurization, homogenization, fermentation, and addition of stabilizers. However, the manufacturing method for cream cheese has also embraced innovations over the years due to technological advancements in the food industry. One such change in the manufacturing process is the switch from the traditional method to the newer ultrafiltration method, a method made possible by using whey-free processing.
Factors monitored in the manufacture of cream cheese are starter cultures, pH, temperature, oxygen, salt, and stabilizers. Exact conditions of these determine the quality of the end cream cheese product, and thus, remain company secrets for manufacturers. The key difficulty in cream cheese manufacturing is knowing when to apply the heat treatment and stop the fermentation. Early or late processing can cause major deterioration in the product quality. Preservatives and packaging have been summarized and are crucial in maintaining the quality of cream cheese once it becomes available to consumers.
Currently, food scientists are trying to crack the code of cream cheese to create new flavors. The chemical composition is important because many mishaps can happen due to the added substances to create these flavors. For example, when pepper is used in garden vegetable flavoured cream cheese, it can secrete acid. As a result, yeast in the cheese ferments the acid and generates gas in the sealed product. Containers may then burst due to the gas build-up. These problems are being tackled by food scientists every day. Some successful products already in the works are kimchi flavoured cream cheese for the Asian market and chipotle salsa flavoured one for North America.  The future of cream cheese looks hopeful and exciting.
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