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Cream cheese will never be a poster child for fine cheesemaking, but its versatility makes it a pop star of the cheese world.

It is one of the most popular cheeses in the United States. The foil-wrapped bricks are mass-produced and stabilized with additives like guar gum for longer shelf life. If you're looking to top toasted bagels, or whip up a batch of cheesecake filling, it's exactly what you want.

The added stabilizers mean that cream cheese won't clot or separate the way unprocessed cheese can when used in cooking. It is stable enough to use as a thickener for creamy soups and sauces. Plus, its mild and slightly tangy flavor satisfies lots of people who can't abide the thought of stinky cheese.

Cream cheese has to be at least 33 percent fat to fit the federal definition, though there are lots of low-fat varieties available, in addition to flavored types.

Name dropping: Philadelphia brand cream cheese was first made in 1880, and not in Pennsylvania. It was made in Chester, N.Y., by the Empire Cheese Co., and called "Philadelphia" because of the reputation that city enjoyed for fine food. The brand is now produced by Kraft Foods.

In this recipe from Allrecipes.com, cream cheese is whipped with sugar and vanilla extract for a quick cheesecake filling. Baked between layers of rolled-out refrigerated crescent roll dough, it makes a party-worthy dessert that takes only minutes to assemble.

> Easy Cheesecake Pie

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 3/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 (8 ounce) cans refrigerated crescent rolls

3/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1/4 cup honey

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Beat the cream cheese with 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla extract in a bowl until smooth.

Unroll the cans of crescent roll dough, and use a rolling pin to shape each piece into 9-by-13-inch rectangles. Press one piece into the bottom of the baking dish.

Evenly spread the cream cheese mixture into the baking dish, then cover with the remaining piece of crescent dough. Stir together 3/4 cup of sugar, cinnamon and butter. Dot the mixture over the top of the cheesecake.

Bake in the preheated oven until the crescent dough has puffed and turned golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with honey.

Cool completely in the pan before cutting into 12 squares.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com