In the United States, cream cheese is practically synonymous with the Philadelphia brand, although other companies produce it. The firm, white cheese is considered a uniquely American product. According to the Philadelphia website, it was first made in 1872, although many believe its 'inventor', William Lawrence, was attempting to make a type of European cheese, perhaps Neufch?tel or quark. Cream cheese has a high fat content (about 33 per cent) but because it's fresh, not ripened, and therefore lacks the complexity that comes with ageing, it isn't nearly as flavoursome as other fatty cheeses such as Brie or Camembert. In response to cream cheese's fattening reputation, low-fat and fat-free varieties have been introduced. With these, flavour and texture are sacrificed in pursuit of lower calories. That's fine if you're mixing it with other ingredients (as in cheesecake; left) but if you're using it as a 'schmear' on a bagel, it's better to use a smaller amount of the real stuff than to offend your taste buds with the fat-free version. The types mixed with smoked salmon, pineapple and strawberry are not worth the money or the calories; it's better to make your own flavoured cheese (although why anyone would want strawberry or pineapple cream cheese is beyond me). The most important trick in making a good cheesecake is to have the cream cheese at room temperature; if it's too cold, it won't blend smoothly and it'll be difficult to beat the other ingredients in. If you find a straight cream cheese cheesecake too heavy, lighten the recipe with ingredients such as mascarpone, sour cream, yogurt and ricotta.