The most essential ingredient in any cheesecake is -- you
guessed it -- Cheese. The cheeses that are most commonly
used are cream cheese, Neufchatel, cottage cheese, and
riccota, but there are some recipes that use such cheeses
as gouda and Swiss.
Cheese is made from milk, whether it be from cows, goats,
or sheep. It has even been made from buffalo and reindeer
milk. The milk is separated into curds (solids) and whey
(liquids) and most of the cheeses are made from the curds,
although riccota is made from the whey. The fresh or
uncured cheeses are the ones you mostly will be using in
your cheesecakes, and these include cream cheese,
neufchatel and cottage cheese. Although these unripened
cheeses all have roughly the same proportion of cheese
solids (roughly 15 to 18 percent), they differ greatly in
their butterfat content. All other things being equal,
the higher the butterfat content, the creamier the
Cream cheese, made from milk, must contain at least 33
percent butterfat and has one hundred calories per ounce.
The water content is 50 percent, the texture is smooth and
oft, the flavor delicate. Allow the cheese to come to
room temperature before using it so that it will blend
easily with other ingredients.
Cream cheese is sold in three-ounce and eight-ounce
packages in all supermarkets. Packages are usually dated
so be sure to check for freshness when you purchase it.
Once purchased, the cheese is usable for at least three
weeks, sometimes even longer. The most widely distributed
brand is Kraft's Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese although
store brands are also available. We've found that these
store brands vary somewhat in quality; they aren't always
as smooth and rich as we'd like. You may want to do some
experimenting to see how well store brands available in
your area compare in flavor and texture with the national
brand. Imitation cream cheese is available in some
places, but we don't recommend it for your cheesecakes.
Neufchatel is made, in the United States, very similar to
cream cheese. It is made from whole or skim milk, or a
combination of milk and cream. Its butterfat content is a
little lower -- about 25 percent -- and it usually has 70
calories per ounce. The water content is 60 percent; the
texture is a little lighter than cream cheese. The flavor
is milder, but in most cases it can be substituted for
cream cheese when a lower fat content is desired. But
then again, who do you think you're kidding? No matter
how you slice it, cheesecake is fattening. If you do
decide to adapt a cream-cheese recipe for use with
neufchatel, remember that the water content is a little
higher than cream cheese; you may want to increase
slightly the quantity of one of the moisture-holding
ingredients (such as flour, cornstarch, gelatin, or egg
whites) called for in the recipe.
Neufchatel is sold much as is cream cheese and the usable
life is about the same. Do not confuse this with the
French neufchatel, which is similar to a camembert.