If the height of your spreadable cheese indulgence hasn't yet gone beyond smearing foil-wrapped cream cheese over a bagel or toast, it's time to look beyond the rectangular dairy brick. Your butter knife needs something better to cling to at breakfast time.
From France's Neufchâtel to Germany's quark, the world is full of creamy cheeses just waiting to top your carbohydrate of choice. Some come as smooth and white as winter's first snow, and others come with a jacket -- or rind -- that keeps their centers soft and lush.
The following is a list of my favorite cheese spreaders from American classics to Middle Eastern and Italian inspirations. All are only a store or mouse click away, and all are less laden with stabilizers and preservatives than the cream cheese most of us grew up with.
Zingerman's Cream Cheese
You don't have to start off big when reconsidering spreadable cheese. Keep it close to home with Zingerman's, the fluffiest, richest, freshest American-style cream cheese I've had (no stabilizers, gums, preservatives here). If you like to keep your bagel topper traditional, you can't go wrong.
Labneh is a rich, lightly tangy strained yogurt cheese that tastes more like cream cheese than anything on this list but Zingerman's. A classic on the Middle Eastern table, Labneh is often traditionally spread with olive oil and herbs over pita bread or served, as I like it best, with honey and pita for breakfast. Can be found at Middle Eastern markets nationwide.
Nettle Meadow Kunik
Who says that creamy, spreadable cheese can't wear a jacket to keep warm? Kunik is a triple-creme cow/goat blend with a bloomy rind covering its silken center. It's buttery all the way, and a little tangy from the goat's milk. I've seen Kunik all over; ask your cheesemonger if you haven't yet noticed it.
Rouge et Noir Schloss
Granted, this isn't for the faint of heart. Made to please Germanic tastes that missed the funkier, sweet washed-rind cheeses from back home, Rouge et Noir started making this cheese at the turn of the 20th century. It packs a punch and can come slightly crumbly or spreadable and thick. I like it on a toasted piece of dark bread with strawberry or fig jam.
Delice de la Vallée
Creamy, fluffy fromage blancs are always welcome in my house. They're as good for topping toast and crostini apps as for filling fresh fruit tarts, Delice is an all-purpose decadent cow's milk and cream/chèvre blend. Tastes like cream cheese mixed with chèvre. The link suggests where to find.
Kirstin Jackson is a professionally trained cook, wine bar manager and cheese program director, food and wine writer, consultant, and instructor, whose fridge and head is almost entirely consumed with cheese. Her first book "It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese," is due out November 2012. Her cheese blog, "It's Not You, It's Brie," was launched in April 2009, and has since received accolades from Blogs.com, Foodista, and Apartment Therapy's The Kitchen.