Yes, we’re a little obsessive about food around here, and very unapologetically so, I might add. Not only do we love the taste and sheer satisfaction of the food and specialty items we offer at Kettleman’s; we also like to know the history behind every bite. Somehow the story behind the taste makes it so much better. I know I’m not alone in my thought processes. After all, there’s a whole genre of food lovingly labeled as ‘comfort food.’ With it comes mental images of home, family gatherings, and even the bowl of chicken and dumplings mom would bring when you were feeling under the weather.

As I sat down this morning to a bagel with schmear, smoked salmon, capers, and onions, though, I couldn’t help but realize that schmears, just like comfort food, has a rich history.

What is a Schmear?

In the traditional sense, a schmear is a generous slathering of cream cheese on a bagel. The word itself has Yiddish origins, derived from the root for spread or smear. Originally, a schmear was simple and rather plain; today however, we often use this word to include cream cheeses that have been blended with a variety of exciting ingredients like peppers, fruit, pickles, capers, herbs, and onions.


Since the sixth century, a French cheese named Neufchatel has been a popular type of spread. This cheese was named after a town by the same name, and is thought to be the oldest kind of cheese in France. It is made only from milk, although it was originally created using raw milk, and today’s is pasteurized.

When many people think about the origin of cream cheese, Neufchatel is where it all began. Why? Because cream cheese was invented by a dairyman in America who was actually attempting to make Neufchatel. What a tasty accident.

The Origins of Cream Cheese

In 1872, a dairyman in New York named Charles Green set about trying to create a cheese that complimented, but was better than, Neufchatel. At this time, a few attempts had already been made, but none measured up in Green’s eyes. He hired a European cheese maker to assist him in his efforts, and the man shared all of his tips for making better cheese.

While the cheese maker was describing the ins and outs of creating the French cheese, Green wasn’t the only one paying close attention. William Lawrence, a Catskills dairyman, was eavesdropping on the conversation. He wrote down everything he heard, but made one mistake- he accidentally doubled the amount of cream he was supposed to use. The result was astounding, however, and Lawrence liked it so much that he sold it as “Star Brand Cream Cheese.” In an attempt to attract new buyers, the brand name eventually changed to Philadelphia, which was considered fashionable at this time.

Ordering Your Bagel

These days, almost everyone knows what you mean when you order a bagel with schmear. However, with the various types of cream cheese available today, it’s not always advisable to throw the Yiddish word about without a little clarification.

If you were to step into Kettleman’s Bagel Co., for instance, and order a bagel with a schmear, you might get a puzzled look- not because the brilliant staff doesn’t know what you mean by schmear, but because you haven’t told them what kind of cream cheese you’re looking for. A schmear could mean deli, olive, vegetable, hot pepper, chive, garlic, or even chocolate cream cheese. (If you’re not getting hungry yet, there’s something wrong!)

Now that you know all the wonderful nuances about schmears, it’s time to put them to the taste test. Stop by Kettleman’s Bagel Co. today or place an order with our Ottawa catering company for your next event.