Mexico Life
Cream cheese is often known in Mexico as queso philadelphia, a cultural nod to the Kraft company's version. It shows up in many Mexican recipes. Cream cheese is often known in Mexico as queso philadelphia, a cultural nod to the Kraft company's version. It shows up in many Mexican recipes.

Cream cheese brings a subtle decadence to many dishes

Cream cheese's mild taste means it can add richness without dominating a dish's core flavor

Recently Profeco, Mexico’s consumer protection agency, cited many of the country’s most popular cheese brands for dishonest labeling and false claims “to the detriment of consumers and with information that could cause them to be deceived.” The much-beloved Philadelphia brand cream cheese was included on that list.

I’ve long wondered whether the Philadelphia cream cheese sold in Mexico has a different formula than the one sold in the United States. Both are made by Kraft Foods, but the texture and consistency in Mexico seemed much more rubbery than the one available north of the border. While I don’t eat a lot of queso crema, every time I do, I’m a little disgruntled.

So I embarked on what turned out to be almost a fruitless endeavor, calling the Kraft Foods customer hotlines numerous times in both Mexico and the U.S., only to hear recordings that no one was available. I sent multiple emails in both languages to customer service reps in both countries with no response, although I did learn that unopened regular cream cheese in its original packaging can be frozen for up to two months.

In the meantime, I examined the ingredients on packages from both sides of the border. They do indeed have different ingredients and different percentages of milk fat and moisture. In Mexico, cream cheese contains locust bean gum and xanthan gum and has less milk fat and moisture content than permitted in the U.S.

It’s also a smaller package — 180 grams or 200 grams as opposed to 220. U.S.-sold Philadelphia cream cheese contains whey, whey protein concentrate and carob bean gum—thickeners that result in a more natural texture. Hmmm. Searching the website once more, I discovered a chat option. Although it took a rep more than 24 hours to answer, at long last I was able to chat live with someone.

With DIY cream cheese, you can control the amount of milk fat it contains.
With DIY cream cheese, you can control the amount of milk fat it contains.

She had no comment about the Profeco situation — and indeed, Philadelphia cream cheese continues to be sold even after it was supposedly removed from shelves — but she did shed some light on the formulas. Yes, she confirmed, “our portfolio is dynamic. Each region has its need for products, and there may be slight changes in them.”

So there you have it, folks. But wait — what about making it yourself? Si se puede! DIY cream cheese is easy! See the recipe below.

Cream Cheese

Don’t use ultrapasteurized milk or cream — it won’t curdle properly.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1¼ cups plain yogurt
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp. white vinegar

In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk cream, milk, yogurt and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add vinegar, bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds, then lower heat to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool in the pot for 1 hour.

Line a fine-mesh strainer with a clean cotton tea towel (or three layers of cheesecloth) over a bowl. Pour mixture into strainer; cover top with plastic wrap and refrigerate to drain for 6-8 hours or overnight. (Longer than this may dry out the cream cheese, in which case you can fold in a bit of cream or milk.)

Discard liquid from bowl and spoon cream cheese into an airtight container, stirring until smooth. Makes about 1 cup. Store, refrigerated, for up to two weeks.

Cream cheese adds a nice, thick consistency to homemade Alfredo sauce.
Cream cheese adds a nice, thick consistency to homemade Alfredo sauce.

Perfect Alfredo Sauce

This tastes so much better when you make it yourself!

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder OR 2 cloves minced fresh garlic
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅛ tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley

Melt butter in medium non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Add cream cheese and garlic, whisking until smooth. Whisk in milk a little at a time; add Parmesan, pepper and parsley.

Cook carefully until sauce is desired consistency. Toss with hot pasta to serve.

Cream cheese is the secret ingredient in these decadent cookies.
Cream cheese is the secret ingredient in these decadent cookies.

Cream Cheese Cookies

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. Cream butter and cream cheese with a mixer. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla till thoroughly combined.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Beat until just combined. Cover. Chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. With damp clean hands, portion dough into balls of about two tablespoons. (Dough will be sticky.) Place two inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes until edges set and beginning to turn color.

This version of Enchiladas Suizas uses a whole package of cream cheese.
This version of Enchiladas Suizas uses a whole package of cream cheese.

Chicken Enchiladas Suizas

Feel free to use your own homemade salsa verde.

  • 3-4 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can green enchilada sauce
  • 7 flour tortillas
  • 8 oz. shredded Chihuahua or Jack cheese, divided

Heat butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook onion and jalapeños about 5 minutes; stir in cream cheese and cook till it melts and softens. Add fresh garlic, red pepper flakes and chicken; remove from heat.

Pour half the green sauce into bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Spread a line of chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, roll up and place into baking dish, seam side down. Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.  Bake until filling is hot and bubbling and cheese has melted, 30-35 minutes.

 

Cream cheese balances the spicy kick of these jalapeño poppers
Cream cheese balances the spicy kick of these jalapeño poppers

Grilled Jalapeño Poppers

  • 12 large jalapeño chiles
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda or Cheddar cheese
  • Salt
  • 6 slices bacon
  • Toothpicks

Heat a gas grill for medium direct cooking. Cut jalapeños in half lengthwise, leaving halves connected at the stem. Remove seeds and ribs. Cut bacon slices in half. Mash cheeses in a bowl with a little salt. Fill jalapeño halves evenly and press halves back together to close. Wrap each with a half-slice of bacon. Secure with a toothpick if necessary.

Put jalapeños on grill directly over the fire. Close lid and cook, carefully turning once, until peppers have softened and browned (it’s okay if they char in spots), cheese has melted, and bacon is crisp. 8-15 minutes.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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