What is a bagel without the schmear? How and when did this creamy, delectable spread make its way onto our plates? In anticipation of his talk at the Skirball on June 24, we asked Rabbi Jeff Marx, a historian of cream cheese and rabbi to The Santa Monica Synagogue, to answer a few of these questions and to share his recommendation for the best cream cheese vehicle (I took the liberty of trying out his suggestion!).
At the Skirball, you’ll be sharing a lot about the little-known history of cream cheese. What’s one remarkable fact about schmear that surprises most people? That there was no cream cheese in Eastern Europe. Even more surprising is when bagel, cream cheese, and lox first became a combination. And no, I’m not going to tell you that now. You’ll have to wait for the lecture!
How did you get interested in this topic in the first place?
I was writing a history of two Lithuanian brothers who came to America and started Breakstone Bros. Dairy in New York. Some Breakstone family members suggested that the brothers introduced cream cheese to America. When I investigated further, it turned out that in fact cream cheese had been here in the U.S. before they stepped off the boat. I decided to put a footnote in my history indicating this and stating when cream cheese manufacturing actually began. Six years later, I finished the footnote!
Everybody loves cream cheese on a bagel. What’s your recommendation for best cream cheese vehicle/bagel in LA?
Actually, the best “vehicle” for a schmear is not a bagel (because of the hole) but rye bread! In my opinion, it’s superb on the double-baked rye bread at Nate ’n Al’s. I’ll be talking about the bagel-cream cheese problem as part of my lecture.