“Where’s my cream cheese? Where’s Liberté?”
St. Viateur Bagel manager Saul Restrepo has been fielding these questions from frazzled customers combing through his shop’s refrigerators, unable to find the dairy product beloved by locals.
And they won’t be finding it any time soon.
In a blow to Montreal bagel lovers, the company that now owns the product, General Mills, has pulled the famous schmear off the shelves.
A short paragraph posted to its FAQ page does little to sweeten the news.
“It is with great sadness that we must confirm that we will no longer be able to continue making our Liberté cream cheese, which meets the expectations of our consumers,” it reads.
Losing the cream cheese, with its light texture that made for easy dipping, will be a difficult pill for Montrealers to swallow, according to Restrepo.
“People ask for Liberté … it’s a better cheese,” said the manager of the long-running bagel shop.
“I’ve been here for like 40 years so since I remember, Liberté was always here. It was part of the bagels.”
Long history in city’s Jewish community
Kat Romanow was heartbroken when she heard the news about the cream cheese. So much so, she wrote an elegy for it.
“It was really unlike Philadelphia or anything else that was being sold in stores. It had a really tangy taste and the texture was really light and fluffy,” she said.
A Jewish food historian and co-founder of the blog The Wandering Chew, Romanow’s mission is to share the diversity of Jewish stories through food.
And like the bagels that Montrealers love, Liberté cream cheese also has Jewish origins.
Founded by the Kaporovsky family in 1936, Liberté — initially known as Liberty Dairy Products — was created in a building on the corner of St-Urbain and Duluth Streets in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal borough.
From there, the Kaporovskys sold kosher dairy products such as cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream to the Jewish community living in the area, according to Romanow.
The company was eventually acquired by multinational yogurt producer Yoplait, and then by General Mills in 2021.
Still, Romanow says Liberté’s recipe remained reminiscent of the kind of cream cheese that would have been made when the product was first invented in the late 1800s.
“There was nothing else like it. It’s something that has such a long history in the Jewish community in Montreal and it’s so engrained in the bagel culture in this city,” she said.
So, what are people to schmear now?
Romanow said maybe it’s time to start making her own cream cheese, to spread some love to other grieving Montrealers.