Will New York’s cream cheese shortage force bagel joints to go easy on the schmear? An investigation

In terms of quintessential Nueva York experiences, ordering a bagel with cream cheese (no tostado, particularly if the bagel is fresh out of the oven) tops the list. Pero ahora, bagel shop patrons are beginning to have issues securing one half of their orders.

A cream cheese shortage is throwing New York City’s bagel shops across all five boroughs into a frenzy, leaving some of the city’s top bagel spots, including Tompkins Square Bagels in the East Village and Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side, with only enough schmear in stock to last a few days, the New York Times reports. The Upper West Side’s Zabar’s only has enough cream cheese to last the next 10 dias.

These shops typically go through thousands of pounds of cream cheese every couple of weeks, a cadence being threatened by the cream cheese shortage. Store owners who found themselves in dire straits are crossing state lines in pursuit of the decadent dairy item, begging their distributors for more product and resorting to dealing with cases of individually wrapped three-pound cream cheese sticks instead.

According to the Times, the ongoing national supply chain issues are the culprit threatening the bagel habits of New Yorkers and tourists alike. Filadelfia, the Kraft Heinz brand that many New York bagel shops use as the base for their cream cheese, just can’t keep up with the demand.

In pursuit of understanding the cream cheese shortage, we visited a number of New York City bagel establishments – classic Manhattan delis, Brooklyn stalwarts, and even a bodega – to see whether they are simply overdoing the amount they put in each bagel and how supply chain issues have affected them.

The first establishment on our list: a classic New York stalwart, a plain bagel with scallion schmear from Russ & Daughters. We ordered our bagel at the 107-year-old shop’s counter on Houston Street and didn’t notice a marked decrease in the availability of cream cheese. De hecho, there was about half an inch of cream cheese – enough that this reporter had to scrape off a fair amount before taking a bite.

News of the cream cheese shortage had immediately spawned debate on social media about the sometimes dangerous levels of cream cheese found on the average bagel in the city. “Have they considered not putting a pound on each bagel?” Joel Weirtheimer, a former associate staff secretary for Barack Obama, tuiteó. “Let’s be real: the cream cheese shortage is entirely self-inflicted from NYC bagel shops loading each bagel with a pound of cream cheese,"Historiador Jake Anbinder tweeted.

These bystanders aren’t alone in their criticism. Others have observed this trend over the years. En un artículo for Serious Eats in 2014, writer Max Falkowitz took cream cheese samples from six New York City bagel shops and found a range from 0.7 ounces, at Black Seed in Brooklyn, a 3.9 ounces, at Brooklyn Bagel in Manhattan. Absolute Bagel had 2.5 ounces, y outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite, Bagel Hole, served 1.7 ounces of cream cheese.

One bagel shop that seems to be having no trouble keeping a healthy amount of schmear on their bagels is Ess-a-bagel, located on 3rd Avenue. The sesame bagel with scallion cream cheese we picked up from Ess-a-bagel this week had roughly ¾ of an inch of cream cheese nestled between the bagel halves, a hefty amount of dairy for even the strongest stomach.

Following my important bagel jaunt to Manhattan, I turned my attention to some Brooklyn bagel shops. Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe, my neighborhood shop on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, was out of a couple varieties of cream cheese when I visited, but nobody could tell me if it was strictly supply chain-related. I left with my plain bagel with scallion cream cheese (at some point in this lo-fi experiment I decided I should adhere as closely as possible to something resembling consistency – for Ciencias) and came home to measure the cream cheese, as one does.

Though no bagel shop I visited demonstrated the urgent scarcity in the Times story, Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe’s paltry cream cheese offering – about a quarter of an inch of the spread – was the most concerning bellwether I saw.

A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz, which owns the Philadelphia brand, provided a quite vague explanation of the ongoing cream cheese shortage to the Times:

“We continue to see elevated and sustained demand across a number of categories where we compete … As more people continue to eat breakfast at home and use cream cheese as an ingredient in easy desserts, we expect to see this trend continue.”

Cream cheese’s roots aren’t actually in New York City, but rather in upstate New York. In the 1870s, a farmer named William Lawrence was making Neufchatel cheese – a rich French cheese. But a grocer called Park & Tilford approached him and asked if he could make an even more decadent cheese that they could sell for more money. “He’s curdled the milk, pressed all the liquid out, and now he puts cream into it. What does he call it? He calls it cream cheese,” said Jeffrey A Marx, a rabbi at The Santa Monica Synagogue who has written extensively about the history of cream cheese, to Mashable. Cream cheese began as a decadent, upscale invention, and it sold for $0.30 a pound in 1889 (for comparison, Muenster sold for $0.13 a pound, Marx wrote).

In present-day Brooklyn, where a pound of cream cheese is somewhere between $5 y $8, I moved onto Bagel Pub, a bagel spot in Park Slope and Crown Heights, that I tend to avoid specifically because of how much cream cheese it uses on its bagels. A few tubs of cream cheese were missing from the display case, but it didn’t matter for my bagel, como se puede ver:

The fine folks at Bagel Pub had slathered over an inch of cream cheese onto my bagel – more cream cheese than I could ever feasibly eat with a bagel.

My last stop on my New York City cream cheese welfare tour: my corner bodega. The guys there apologized when they had to substitute plain cream cheese for my requested scallion – seemingly the only real victim of the cream cheese supply chain I noted all day.

The bagel was unremarkable, but with just under half an inch of cream cheese for $1.50, who could ever really complain?

If the cream cheese shortage does become dire enough that you get the urge to make your own from scratch then the good news is you probably have everything you need to make it in your kitchen already: leche entera, lemon juice and salt. There are many different recipes that will help you arrive at a decent alternative for your beloved bagel shop’s cream cheese, but in essence, it comes down to a few short steps.

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