Cream cheese and cottage cheese are not purely American, but primarily so.
What cream cheese and cottage cheese have in common, along with French Neufchatel and a few others, is that they are not aged or ripened. The milk or milk-and-cream mixture is curdled by an acid (usually lactic acid), and the curds are ready to eat as soon as they are separated from the whey.
Variations of cottage cheese, probably the simplest of all cheeses, are made throughout the world, presumably in cottages. although no one seems to know the origin of the name. It has been known as pot cheese, farmer cheese, bonnyclabber (in Ireland), and Schmierkase (“spreading cheese” in Pennsylvania Dutch), with several variations in spelling.
In the United States, where cottage cheese is most popular and where it was first manufactured commercially early in the twentieth century, it is made by adding a culture of Streptococcus lactis to pasteurized skim or low-fat milk. These bacteria feed on the milk sugar and produce the coagulating lactic acid.
Usually, another bacterial culture, Leuconostoc citrovorum, which produces flavorful compounds but no acid, is also added. After a fermentation period of several hours, the curds are cooked and some of the water is drained off, leaving loose, crumbly clumps of curd. That’s cottage cheese. If even more water is removed to make a drier product, the product may be called pot cheese. Press the curds into a cake or loaf and it’s called farmer’s cheese.
Because cottage cheese is quite moist (up to 80 percent water), it is very perishable. As a good growth medium for any pathogenic bacteria that may alight upon it, it must be kept refrigerated.
One cup (226 grams) of 2-percent-fat cottage cheese contains 203 calories, while a cup of 1-percent-fat cottage cheese contains 163 calories. Both kinds have a protein content of 28 grams, or 12.4 percent. That’s why cottage cheese has a reputation as a diet food: It’s high in protein, low in fat and carbohydrate.
Cream cheese is quite a different story. It is indeed an American invention, as you might guess from the fact that there seems to be only one brand, named for the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
According to Kraft Foods, which owns the brand, cream cheese originated in 1872 at a dairy in Chester, New York. In 1880 it was branded “Philadelphia” by a New York distributor because at the time Philadelphia had a reputation for high-quality food products. (Pittsburgh cream cheese apparently didn’t make the cut.)
Today’s cream cheese has a minimum fat content of 33 percent and a maximum moisture content of 55 percent. The Philadelphia brand is 34.9 percent fat and contains 810 calories per cup. Its unique creamy-gummy consistency doesn’t happen automatically, however.
It is produced by any of several additives, including algin, a thickener derived from seaweed; locust bean gum from the seeds of the carob tree; gum tragacanth, obtained from various Asian and Eastern European plants; and guar gum, derived from the seed of a leguminous shrub. Smoothness has its price.