With lots of organic and local cream cheeses popping up in various co-ops and grocery stores, it seemed like a fine time to taste a few head-to-head. The criteria for the cream cheese was simple — try to find cream cheeses that have some local cred (measured against Philadelphia cheese for comparison) and see how the flavors stack up. Whenever possible, non-whipped varieties were selected. In general, the taste level of cream cheese was high and the difference between the top and bottom (with the exception of the dairy-free Tofutti) was fairly close. Cream cheeses are ranked here in the order of taste preference based on my unscientific blind taste test, starting with the best tasting.
Swiss Valley Cooperative
$2.99/lb from Wedge Co-op (also available at Seward Co-op)
From Luana, Iowa, available in cut blocks of various sizes.
Swiss Valley cream cheese was the most flavorful cream cheese on this list. The texture is relatively dry and dense, and the flavor seems more concentrated with especially sharp tangy notes. For some people, especially those who prefer a whipped or lighter tasting cream cheese, this might be almost too intense. As the lowest priced cream cheese in the taste test, this value can’t be beat.
$4.15/lb from Rainbow (also available at most supermarkets)
From Lake Mills, Wisconsin
This cream cheese was a close second, with a very tangy and well balanced flavor. The texture is a little more spreadable and smooth (like most commercially available cream cheeses). Since it is available at all local supermarkets, it is a great local alternative to another variety in a silver tub.
Common Roots / Organic Valley cream cheese
$6/pound at Common Roots Cafe
From LaFarge, WI
Common Roots uses cream cheese made by Organic Valley (reviewed below) and then adds their own flavors. In general, the texture is a little looser and it has a more subtle taste. This cream cheese seems to have more flavor than a block of Organic Valley. I can only assume this is because it is whipped, perhaps allowing the flavor to expand more in your mouth while chewing. The flavors that Common Roots adds (such as cardamom cherry or honey nut) are intense but still well balanced, making them the best flavored cream cheeses I have tried.
$4.15/lb from Rainbow (also available everywhere)
Compared to the stronger flavors of the local cream cheeses, the Philadelphia workhorse has a more yogurt-like flavor — less tangy and more smooth. Obviously, it is a cream cheese mainstay, but is certainly beaten taste-wise by some local choices.
approximately $8/lb at the Wedge coop (also available at Seward Co-op and most supermarkets)
From LaFarge, WI
This cheese lacks the characteristic tangy flavor of the other cream cheeses. It has a nice texture, but just not a lot of flavor. This is still a perfectly nice cream cheese, especially for those who prefer texture over flavor.
Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
approximately $6/lb at Rainbow (also available at most supermarkets)
This soy-based non-dairy “cream cheese” tastes a lot like sour cream — it doesn’t have much cream cheese flavor, and the texture is a little slippery. That said, the texture it is surprisingly like cream cheese.
Parkers Farm flavored cream cheese
$3.86/lb at Rainbow
From Coon Rapids, MN
Parker Farms is the only Minnesota-based cream cheese on the list, and seems to make only flavored cream cheeses. The honey nut flavor was not very flavorful and also lacked the zing that a good cream cheese should showcase. Also, this cream cheese seems to have a slightly “off” aftertaste of blue cheese.