Many of us who love Jewish food can find nothing more tempting than a bagel and “schmear”… the Yiddish word for a generous slathering of cream cheese. But as we order our nova lox, onions, and sprinkling of capers, few of us stop to wonder where cream cheese comes from. Like all food, cream cheese has a history… and the story behind the schmear is a fascinating combination of luck, accident, and the entrepreneurial spirit of early America.
Cream cheese as we know it today– the American “schmear” we are so fond of– was first discovered in Chester, New York in the late 1800’s. At that time, a form of cream cheese known as Neufchatel was quite popular in France. Neufchatel has been around for centuries– the first official mention of it dates to 1543 in the ledgers of Saint-Aman Abbey of Rouen. In 1872, Charles Green, a New York dairyman, wanted to create a better version of Neufchatel for America; a few brands were already on the market, but Green felt they didn’t measure up to the French version. He brought a European cheese maker to town, who shared his tips for making better cheese. Another Catskills dairyman, William Lawrence, eavesdropped on the conversation and jotted down the recipe for Neufchatel. In his attempt to recreate the recipe he’d overheard, Lawrence accidentally doubled the amount of cream. He liked the result so much that he began selling it under the name “Star Brand Cream Cheese.” Over time, the brand name was changed. Though the product was developed in the Catskills, Philadelphia was the most fashionable name in the United States at that time. Philadelphia Cream Cheese was born, and survives to this day as the most popular American cream cheese on the market.
This Lemon Dill Schmear is a lemony twist on classic cream cheese. It makes a unique and tasty addition to a bagel platter; you can also serve it as a condiment at the Shavuot table. Decorate it with a simple lemon twist for a fun presentation. Who doesn’t love a good schmear?
I take my sesame bagel toasted with nova lox, capers, and a schmear. How do you take your bagel?
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Lemon Dill Schmear
- 1 lb cream cheese, softened
- 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
- 1 tbsp heavy whipping cream, or more for consistency
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- Salt and white pepper to taste (optional)
- Fit your food processor with a blade attachment. Place cream cheese, lemon juice, whipping cream, lemon zest, and dill into the processor. Process to blend all ingredients until a creamy, smooth texture develops. You may add more whipping cream if desired; this will soften the texture and make it more dip-like. After processing, taste the schmear-- add more lemon juice, salt, and white pepper to taste, if desired.
- Chill the schmear until ready to serve. Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired (instructions can be found here). Spread on toasted bagels or crackers.
Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, USA.
Smith, Andrew F. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink.
Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
Stamm, Eunice R. (1991) The History of Cheesemaking in New York State. Lewis Group, Endicott, NY.