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Philadelphia cream cheese isn't actually from Philly

The iconic cream cheese has a fascinating origin story.
Did you know that cream cheese was first invented in 1872?
Did you know that cream cheese was first invented in 1872?Bloomberg via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

If you've always assumed that Philadelphia cream cheese was made in the City of Brotherly Love, you're definitely not alone. But, unfortunately, you're also wrong.

What is arguably the world's most popular brand of the creamy spread did not originate in Philadelphia, is not produced there and has never been manufactured in the state of Pennsylvania.

Questions about the brand's name and origin story have been floating around for years. If Philadelphia cream cheese isn't from Philly, then why is it even called that?

In 1928, Philadelphia's cream cheese was packaged in a square block.
In 1928, Philadelphia's cream cheese was packaged in a square block. Kraft

Food writer Priya Krishna recently explored the origins of this staple spread for Bon Appétit. As it turns out, the brand, which was founded by a man named William Lawrence, has been making its cream cheese in New York since 1872.

Lawrence, a dairyman from Chester, New York, was attempting to make Neufchâtel — a tangy, crumblier cheese product that was popular in Europe at the time — when he accidentally added a bit too much cream and created a richer, more spreadable cheese, a company spokesperson told TODAY Food. But Lawrence wouldn't start selling his cream cheese under the name "Philadelphia" for a few years.

In 1880, he partnered with A.L. Reynolds (a larger cheese distributor in the state) to sell bigger quantities of cream cheese. At the time, Pennsylvania had a reputation for its high-quality dairy farms and creamier cheese products so they decided to slap the name "Philadelphia" on the foil-wrapped blocks of creamy cheese.

"Reynolds wanted people to know the cheese was high quality and Philadelphia was associated with high quality dairy products at the time," Philadelphia's senior associate band manager Blythe Jeckel confirmed to TODAY.

Over the years, the company went through a few changes and Reynolds eventually sold the trademarked name Philadelphia to the Phenix Cheese Company. Philadelphia truly became a household name in 1928, when Phenix merged with the wholesale cheese-delivery business Kraft to form the Kraft-Phenix Cheese Company.

No-Bake Cheesecake

No-Bake Cheesecake

Alex Guarnaschelli

Today, Philadelphia is beloved by chefs and home cooks alike as a reliable base for a myriad of desserts, dips and sauces. The "star ingredients," according to Jackel, are milk and cream sourced from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and Lowville, New York ... and no dairy farms in Pennsylvania.

Today's Philadelphia cream cheese has a much longer shelf life than previous iterations and the modern recipe includes salt, plus the thickening and stabilizing agents xanthum gum, guar gum and carob bean gum.

The brand also manufacturers dozens of flavored products including spreads, dips and ready-to-eat desserts from its factory in Upstate New York.

Philadelphia cream cheese is set to mark its 150th anniversary in 2020, so it only seems appropriate that the brand's true origin story should be brought to light today.