Cream cheese is available in a variety of different types. It is a soft cheese made from milk and cream, with stabilizers occasionally added to provide some firmness. In many places, this cheese is available in regular, light, and fat-free versions. It usually can be found plain or flavored as well, and there often are alternatives available for those who do not eat dairy products.
An American dairyman is credited with inventing cream cheese in 1872. Although there was one basic type at the time, the product is now sold in many forms. These include the traditional "brick" style as well as tubs of soft or whipped cream cheese. It can be found in most grocery stores, bakeries and bagel shops.
People commonly use regular cream cheese as a spread on sandwiches, bagels, vegetables and similar items. Despite its normally high fat content, many people enjoy the mild flavor and creamy texture. It is a popular ingredient in dips and in sweet items, such as cheesecakes and frosting. One can also find it in various side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, and in appetizers such as crab rangoon.
The full-fat versions usually taste richer in recipes, though healthier varieties can sometimes be substituted without causing a noticeable difference in flavor or consistency. Some people prefer cream cheese with fewer calories and less fat, so they opt for lighter versions. In many cases, however, what is commonly referred to as "low-fat" is actually a variety of cheese called Neufchâtel, which originated in France. The texture of French Neufchâtel is quite different from American cream cheese and does not contain as much moisture.
Fat-free versions of this cheese contains even fewer calories than regular and low-fat varieties. In some cases, however, it contains more artificial ingredients and preservatives. Generally, all varieties should be refrigerated and consumed within a few days of opening to maintain freshness.
For those who consider the taste of regular cream cheese to be too plain, flavored types are a popular alternative. Some examples of common flavor varieties include herb, strawberry and honey walnut. Unique flavors are available in certain areas, and many people opt to make their own flavored cream cheese at home.