The unthinkable has happened: in your grocery shopping haste, you grabbed the your typical gray, rectangular box of cream cheese from the dairy section, but upon unpacking your grocery bags at home you discover that you’ve accidentally picked up a block of Neufchatel instead. You frantically think, What is this?!
Although they are almost always sold side-by-side, Americans overwhelmingly prefer cream cheese over Neufchatel. Most don’t give poor Neufchatel a second glance, and many have never even tasted it before. But let’s be honest, when was the last time that you had a recipe which called specifically for Neufchatel? It’s a commonly forgotten and overlooked cheese. What’s interesting about anti-Neufchatelism in the United States is that unbeknownst to many, it’s actually quite similar to cream cheese, making an accidental switch at the grocery a non-issue. While cream cheese is made with 33% milk fat, Neufchatel is just 23% milk fat, in addition to having a slightly higher moisture content. Despite this difference, Neufchatel can be substituted in almost any dish that requires traditional cream cheese. Where the difference between Neufchatel and cream cheese really exists is in the history of the two cheeses.
By comparison, cream cheese can be considered a youngster among other cheese varieties. Having first emerged onto the food scene in the 1870s, cream cheese has been an American staple for roughly the last century. The story goes that a New York cheesemaker stumbled upon cream cheese in an attempt to recreate France’s oldest cheese, Neufchatel. Dating back to 6th century Europe, Neufchatel originally comes from a French village with its same namesake. Quite unlike the foil-wrapped bricks that came be found in American grocery stores, traditional Neufchatel actually looks very similar to Brie. French Neufchatel is also made with raw cow’s milk, while Americanized versions of Neufchatel and cream cheese are made with pasteurized milk and cream.
What is most most memorable about real Neufchatel, however, is it’s heart-shaped rind. Cheese legend has it that in during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between England and France, young English soldiers fell in love with French farm girls during the long years of warfare. When the English army eventually returned to their lonely isle, the lovesick maidens who were left behind began making their cheese in the shape of hearts. Who knew cheese could be so romantic?Photo Credit: frolic-blog.com