The nation’s bagel world has been in a panic over the past few weeks ever since the world’s persistent supply chain woes, which have already delayed everything from computer chips to Christmas lights, suddenly hit another vexing schmear: a shortage of cream cheese.
The conundrum, which has New York’s bagel shops in an all-out scramble, has touched Philadelphia’s bagel scene, too.
“I was feeling (the shortage) a few weeks ago, and then we started to hoard it,” says Patrick Smith, the chef at Lost Bread Cafe (2218 Walnut St.), which had been making its own distinctive cream cheese from goat’s milk until a few months ago when production issues, including staffing and pricing, put that on pause.
“We’re going to start up producing our own again, though, for that very reason,” says Smith of the shortage, who said they are in the process of refining a new recipe this week. “Our goal is always to be self-sufficient.”
Lost Bread owner Alex Bois says any new cream cheese is unlikely for them in the short term, as they work out some technical details. In the meanwhile, Philadelphia has other worthy local alternatives to industrial cream cheese. Korshak Bagels (1700 S. 10th St.) in South Philadelphia, which burst onto the scene in last spring as one of the city’s best new bagel shops, is another artisan bagel shop that’s making its own, whipping goat’s milk with the brine from Mancuso’s mozzarella for a cheese that has a lovely tang. It has a nice spreadability as well as worthy specialty flavors (try the roasted long hot version for a true South Philly morning zing.)
The most notable local alternative, however, comes from the new Perrystead Dairy (1639 N. Hancock St.) in Kensington, where cheese savant Yoav Perry has created the Real Philly Schmear, which is the closest thing I’ve tasted in flavor to that familiar cream cheese profile but with a hint more tang.
Perry identified the right cultures and enzymes to give this tub of spreadable white cheese a silky fluffiness akin to whipped cream cheese but that, when eaten side-by-side, delivers a rich mouthfeel that makes the commercial standards taste waxy. It’s made with grass-fed local milk instead of cream, which means it can’t technically be called cream cheese. But it is remarkable in its ability to achieve the same sense of richness with two-thirds less butterfat while retaining more calcium and proteins.
“It’s also more sustainable, because I’m also not separating the cream and throwing away the milk,” says Perry.
The Real Philly Schmear is available retail at local stores like Riverwards Produce (2200 E. Norris St.), the Weaver’s Way Coop in Ambler, Biederman’s (824 Christian St.), the Pennsylvania General Store (Reading Terminal Market), and Herman’s Coffee (1313 S. 3rd St.). It has been riding high and stretching little Perrystead’s capacity since it was featured in a rave review in Food & Wine in August, shortly after the creamery opened its doors. As a result, Perry had already been searching for a way to ramp up production to accommodate growth.
But now? The expansion quest seems even more urgent. The great cream cheese shortage of 2021 could become the Real Philly Schmear’s big moment.
“I hope so!” says Perry. “We want to take it national.”