Tuesday, April 21, 2009

dairying definitions

Today I believe I was served cream cheese with my tato skins. Curiosity ensued. After exhaustive research, I've concluded sour cream and cream cheese are really kissing cousins. If you peruse the bullets below you'll see the same raw ingredients and the same basic concept of taking cream and milk and culturing them. Add a little guar gum to get your desired consistency and ouhla you have either cream cheese or sour cream.

Sour cream:
  • True sour cream is a dairy product made primarily of cream. Adding bacteria derived from lactic acid makes sour cream sour. The bacteria essentially culture the cream, causing it to become thick and sour. Light sour cream is made with part cream and part milk. It often requires stabilizers in order to provide the desired thickness. Nonfat sour cream is made with nonfat milk and normally needs a significant amount of stabilizers like carrageenan and guar gum in order to replicate the thickness of true sour cream.
Cream cheese:
  • Cream cheese refers to the soft, spreadable white cheese that is consumed fresh. Cream cheese is made from a combination of cream and milk, and 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 like guar gum to get the necessary firmness, because the high fat content of the milk products is prone to separating.
  • Certain flavors of cream cheese are classified by the Food and Drug Administration not as cheeses, but as "cheese spreads," because their milk fat content is substantially lower than that of whole cheese. Cheese *spreads* are also wetter than cheese foods (my scientific way of saying "higher in moisture content"). Oh naughty!
I hope this becomes the definitive explanation of cream cheese vs. sour cream the world round!

I know we're all looking for the meaning of it all. I know our worlds will likely shatter if we discover that the only thing responsible for distinguishing between what goes on our potatoes and what goes on our bagels is guar gum. So I used my Wisconsin-bred brain to dig as deep as possible into the real MEANING of it ALL and here is what I think. I think that sour cream needs to reach an acidity of at least .05% and must contain at least 18% milk fat. I'm not sure if it takes 18 hours to reach .05% acidity (like Acidophilus Cultured Milk, incidentally cream cheese also takes 12+ hours to get cultured). I do know that Streptococcus lactis is the culture to be used for sour cream. Actually, turns out in 1985 Streptococcus lactis was reclassified to Lactococcus lactis. Knowing this may change your life...

Moving on, lactic acid is also used in making cream cheese. It's rather hard for me to grasp the nuances of the lactic acid bacteria group so follow that link to learn more. But I'm guessing there's no desired .o5% acidity or sour requirement for cream cheese. Also to be a cheese, I've inferred there is a minimun milkfat content requirement. Because you're counting on me, I've extensively reviewed federal guidelines regarding cheese identities to arrive at this vital information...cream cheese requires a minimum milkfat content of 33% by weight of the finished food and a maximum moisture content of 55% by weight. Aight?

Brief Bibliography:

I had to read way too much of 21 CFR 133 (see the link above about what cheese really really is) because the internet, as I have been saying, sucks these days. Case in point:

Your search - cheese+"minimum fat" - did not match any documents.


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