I Heart Neufchâtel

neufchâtel heart

Neufchâtel got a makeover when it crossed the Atlantic, to the states, where it’s used to refer to low-fat cream cheese, which bears no resemblance to true Neufchâtel, a cheese that certainly doesn’t fall anywhere near that category.

The cheese is from Normandy, a region that few would argue produces the best cheeses in the world. Camembert, Livarot, and the especially creamy Brillat-Savarin are some of the more famous Norman cheeses, but I’m also happy that Neufchâtel is included in that privileged group.

Neufchâtel is available in industrial or fermier (“farm-produced”) versions. All versions are made with cow’s milk, although sometimes it’s made with raw milk, others are made from milk that’s been pasteurized.


Your best bet is to select one from a good fromager, who will likely stock a top-quality Neufchâtel. If you’re going eat a big blob of fat cleverly disguised in the shape of a heart, there’s no sense in eating one that’s not extraordinary.

neufchâtel

The distinctive heart shape of Neufchâtel often makes people think this isn’t a serious cheese. Although it’s also available in squares or rounds, I always buy the heart-shaped ones, whose form hark back to the days when female cheese makers molded the cheeses as such to give to British soldiers, ostensibly to win their hearts. Which likely worked. (Hey, it worked on me.)

But in fact, Neufchâtel is the oldest of all the cheeses made in Normandy. True, it doesn’t have the deep, barnyard-y flavor of some of the other lusty, local specimens. But the creamy, salty taste of a good Neufchâtel, with its snowy-white, supple crust, shouldn’t be underestimated. It makes a fine companion to any cheese plate or just smeared on a slice of bread for un p’tit goûter.

cut neufchâtel

I picked up this beauty at the fromagerie of Patricia and Eric Lefebvre, an excellent, small, out-of-the way cheese shop that’s worth a visit. Especially because the bakery next door (at 225, rue de Charenton) is equally worthwhile: the caramelized orange cakes, natas, breads, and the chocolate cakes in the shape of hearts make the trip even more attractive. And are a few other things I heart in Paris.

Fromagerie de Paris
229, rue de Charenton (12th)
Tél: 01 46 28 62 07
(Like most fromageries, this one is closed Sunday and Monday, and closes mid-day, from 1pm-4pm.)

Resources and related links:

Steven Jenkins Cheese Primer

French Cheeses: Eyewitness Guide (My favorite guide to French cheeses)

Interview with Eric Lefebvre (in French)

Make Your Own Neufchatel

Fromages (French cheeses available in America)

Official Neufchâtel website

46 comments

  • Have been following – and enjoying! – your blog for many months now; what fun to see my local cheese shop featured here! And you are right, the baker next door makes great bread – try the Charenton….

  • Hey David, maybe you can answer this question for me. So what exactly is the American cream cheese and neufchatel? Is it cheese in the way Kraft singles are “cheese”?

  • “If you’re going eat a big blob of fat cleverly disguised in the shape of a heart, there’s no sense in eating one that’s not extraordinary.”

    Amen to that! I don’t know what I would do without your posts, David : )

  • I remember seeing Neufchâtel in American supermarkets for the first time, and how it truly was marketed as “low-fat cream cheese.” For some reason, I always thought it was from Switzerland; I think that must have been how it was described. Learn something new everyday…

  • katie: I did a bit of poking around when writing this post in some of my cheese books, and the answer seemed to be “no one seems to know.” If anyone does know, it’d be interesting to hear. It’s likely some marketing person thought it sounded foreign and exotic?

  • So what do people in the rest of the world use to make a cheesecake? Is mascarpone the only close substitute?

  • katie> I dunno for the rest or the world, but here in france for cheesecake we use “fromage blanc égoutté en faisselle“, strained white fresh cheese, which look like yoghurt, but is more dense. It looks like mascarpone or well blended cottage cheese, when you take the full fat product, but there’s also half fat and no fat products. the faisselle (a grid basket to strain the fromage blanc in it’s pot even after you bought it) gives to the product the texture of fresh goat cheese, after a few days of straining.
    I know from oversea friends that fromage blanc almost does’nt exist in US.

    Is US neufchâtel looking like a creamy cheese with no crust, philadelphia style ? Or is it looking like this neufchâtel, white fresh cheese with a crust (close to young brie for example) ?

    I have trouble to imagine someone making cheesecake with some cheese with a crust as brie or this european neufchâtel, seems wierd => I bet i do not visualise this US neufchâtel as I should :D.

  • America is a great place, but one of our glaring weaknesses is how we let folks know what they’re eating.

    You can have pasteurized and concentrated pomegranate juice, and the sellers claim all the benefits of juice from right off the tree.

    And you can have a fizzy grape juice “champagne” to wash down your “baguette” spread with “Neufchâtel.”

  • Krysalia-The neufchatel here in the US looks just like cream cheese-no crust, philadelphia style. Looking at David’s photos makes my mouth water. Looking at our neufchatel does NOT make your mouth water. Thanks for the post David-I didn’t know there was anything different.

  • I make my own fromage blanc—it’s simple to make and consistantly turns out beautifully every time. I buy the packets of starter from The New England Cheesemaking Co.

  • WTF?!! Why are we so cheated over here states? It is my goal for the weekend to seek out some actual Neufchatel now…

  • Laura: I did see a website that was selling French Neufchâtel, but each one was around $20 (this one was around €4, about $6). So I think it’s probably better to come to France to enjoy it.

    Katie: Krysalia is right that French people often use fromage blanc, which some places (like Cowgirl Creamery and others) make in the US. You can buy Kiri, or what they call pâte à tartiner, which is very similar to cream cheese. For the well-heeled, Philadelphia cream cheese is available here…for a price!

  • I feel so… wronged. Violated. I thought it was bad cream cheese. O.o

  • I wish I could get that here. I am stuck with the low fat weird cream cheese stuff. This is perfection.

  • baked alaska> thanks !

  • OK, this has nothing to do with cheese, but Monday I had some leftover celery root, found your celery root soup recipe, and was in the midst of stirring the pot, had Bizzare Foods on the tv, and who do you think was guiding Andrew around Paris while I was stirring? Just thought that was pretty funny…

  • The pretty little shape with the crusts look divine.. sure won my heart! I have never tasted this, but with all the talk about it, i need to.

  • One source says:

    According to popular legend, American cream cheese was developed by a cheesemaker who was actually trying to make Neufchâtel cheese. The result of the cheesemaking process was a much softer, silkier fresh cheese, and the cheesemaker realized that it could be ideally suited as a soft spreadable cheese. Cream cheese is designed to be consumed fresh, and it is typically not molded and aged in the Neufchâtel style. Cream cheese labeled as “Neufchâtel” is lower in fat than regular cream cheese, with a softer texture and a very high moisture content.

  • Oh, now THAT looks like something I’d like to eat. I detest that local lowfat cream cheese they call neufchatel here… it’s flavorless.

    We definitely need some decent cheese here in the US. I can find some good imported cheese, but it comes dearly, and I have to travel to find it. I’m still on the hunt for Halloumi in Central NY!

  • I will never look at Neufchatel the same again. And now I’m intrigued with the idea of learning how to make cheese at home ;)

  • David, this is the kind of post that makes reading your blog dangerous (to my waistline, at least).

    I can resist buying most of other food temptations you dangle in front of us (yes, even chocolate). I can postpone some of them for special occasions. But when you show a cheese that looks that decadently rich, it takes all my willpower not to immediately head to my favorite cheese shop.

    This has my mouth watering almost as much as your Neal’s Yard visit a while back. Well played, sir!

  • Mmmm. Seeing that cheese and thinking about smearing it on a really good, fresh, chewy baguette, bien cuite, makes my mouth water. Thank you once again David for making me question why we ever moved back to Canada….

  • That looks gorgeous. My complaint with French cheese in the US is that I feel like the white rind part is always sooooo much thicker than in France. I never would take the rind of of cheeses like this in France, but in the States it disgustingly thick that I’m forced to. Ahh French cheese. I love them.

  • Thank you for the info about this cheese. I couldn’t imagine why there was a french name for a low fat cream cheese here in the U.S. Like our wines have changed..the mfg’s may be forced to change the borrowed names of our cheeses so as to not infer that our process is the same as those of France. There is sure no resemblence between the Philly brand to the one you show here! I’d actually eat the french version! Well..okay, I do like Philly’s too sometimes!

  • Hi! Not related to this post but I just had to say.. I just made your sugared puffs and they were delicious :D. I just scarfed down three of them and now I’m too full to eat dinner :P.

  • uhhh, i mean baguette and …..”here’s to the people who invented such a great breakfast tradition” Salut!!

  • Hand over that cheese and no one gets hurt……okay, keep it, but at least let me have some…… plz..plz…pretty please.

    (Heart-shaped, that says it all.)

    I’ve got to quit reading this blog at bedtime. Seriously. I gain weight just looking at it.

    ;)

  • This is totally off topic, but haven’t you raved about Rancho Gordo beans on this blog before?

    Thought you might be interested in this New York times article….

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/magazine/29food-t-000.html

    Love that picture of the Neufchatel, though. I spent the last few weeks in Utah, where good bread and good cheese was hard to find, and cost an arm and leg when you found it.

  • Completely unrelated, but I just spent the whole night working on a croissant dough and I think I failed. Sigh. This kind of thing would surely never happen to me if I lived in Paris…

  • Skippy: Because in Paris, no one would make croissants, since they’re so easily available.

    So you just need to move; that’ll solve all your problems!

    (Well, at least the ones involving croissant dough…)

  • David, am I reading that cheese wrapper correctly? — and is it saying that the cheese is made at an agricultural school in the region? Wow.

  • The best part about working as a cheesemaker on a small farm is that, not only am I privileged enough to enjoy the process of making the cheese, but I also get to taste every batch before it goes out, and we make a nice little neufchatel that is especially tasty. Sometimes we adorn them with little sprigs of rosemary and a few pink peppercorns. They’re a favorite of young couples at market. ;)

  • From the photo, I would say that it bears a resemblance to brie. Is there any taste difference? We love brie and can go through it very quickly. I have also made a wonderful baked brie. I do agree that when Kraft using the name neufchatel on what is basically light Philadelphia cream cheese is the only thing about it–there is clearly nothing similar to it. And maybe the French should protest that!!

  • For those looking for artisanal cheeses in the States, search out your nearest farm market.

    If there’s not a producer there, ask someone — lots of times the network of fresh producers is spread far and wide, and someone is likely to know of a good producer not too far away.

    If that doesn’t work, try a local natural-foods store — that’s always a good place to find out about local producers of all sorts of things.

    The yellow pages and Google are good sources, too.

    And so the Europeans know, Americans don’t just belly up to a plate of Philly cream cheese (or even Neufchatel, the light cream cheese)! We use it much like pate a tartiner, spreading it on toasted bagels, especially, and using it to make cheesecake.

    (and to the poster who likes Brie? Make a special effort to find the other AOC varietal of Brie when you’re back in Paris — they’re produced in the region just outside of Disneyland Paris — go figure — Brie de Meaux is the one with the most production, but Brie de Melun is my particular fave. There are three other main types, as well, but only the types from Meaux and Melun have an AOC designation.)

  • You can find good cheeses in the US, just look for artisinal cheeses. We spend the summer in Vermont and local cheese producers are thriving. Burlington has a wonderful farmer’s market on Saturday mornings where you can buy cheeses directly from the farmers that make them. As consumers we will continue to be offered that tasteless supermarket stuff as long as we continue to purchase them…yuck! Love the blog, David!

  • Now I understand why my French mother-in-law was so confused when I gave her an American cheesecake recipe (at her request – I don’t even like cheesecake) and suggested that if she couldn’t find Philadelphia, she could use Neufchatel.

  • Accidental Parisian: Yikes! That would be one heckuva cheesecake…

    Sunny & Bonnie: Yes, there’s great cheeses made in America, although they’re not always easy to find. Most supermarkets carry a decent cheddar, and in the Bay Area (and Washington, DC) the gals at Cowgirl Creamery produce some nice cheeses, as well as many others, including Point Reyes Blue, Maytag, and Vella…whose dry jack cheese rubbed with Guittard cocoa powder is awesome.

  • No fair! I can’t get this in LA…and I can just taste it…

  • Hey, Unconfidentialcook: You must also be an unconfidential shopper, because great artisanal cheese can be found all over L.A. Joan’s On Third in Hollywood has a great selection and the staff is very knowledgeable, and the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop imports seasonal cheese from Europe, local farm cheeses, they make their own outstanding olive oil…they were even getting a regular shipment of Poilane bread for a while. They will take you on a tasting adventure until you find the cheese of your dreams. Cowgirl Creamery is so popular, that every Whole Foods carries it now. But the most interesting offerings can be found at the farmers markets. Being a Losangeleno, I believe that this city is lacking in many things, but a diligent cheesehound can sniff out the good!

  • David,

    I’m a huge fan of your work, your blog, your book and, of course, your ice creams!
    Thanks to that I bought an ice cream machine last summer and become an home made ice cream addicted. :)

    After starting with the basic, now I like to try new flavors and combinations.
    I’ve a blog, in portuguese, where i post me food experiences.
    The last ice cream i post was a lemon (green lemon?) with rosemary ice cream that was fantastic.
    The english version of my blog:
    http://translate.google.com/translate?client=tmpg&hl=pt&u=http%3A%2F%2Fnosoup-foryou.blogspot.com%2F&langpair=pt|en

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipes and texts.
    :)

  • David, I love the knife in the 1st picture is it a folding knife? Looks old and antique.
    Thanks for the interesting story. It reminds me of when my mother raised goats and we were required to do kitchen duty making a home-made goat cheese. Her personal recipe which she took to the grave. But in the State of Missouri, Lithuanian women had many secrets which they brought from the old country.

  • MysticMeg — look closely, and you’ll see a small metal honeybee attached to the handle of that knife — that marks it as a Laguiole knife made in the southwest of France. The bee was the personal symbol of Napoleon I, and they received special permission to put it on all of the products to signify that they made the personal knifes of Napoleon Bonaparte. The bees are still there to this day.

    It may or may not be old — they have the wonderful ability to make knives that fit effortlessly into your hand, and look old and loved even right out of the box. They make all sorts of cutlery, from kitchen knives to table knives to folding picnic knives to pruning knives to use in the garden — and they are much-loved.

    (I have a number of them, and I love them all!)

  • Do you actually eat the rind?

  • Huh…I make “Neufchatel” at home and I have read of its origin in Normandy and the legend behind the heart-shape. I didn’t realize ’til I saw your photo, though, that it is aged and comes with a rind in its homeland–I thought it was a soft, fresh cheese.

    I always thought the difference between Neufchatel and cream cheese was the cream content. I make mine with a gallon of raw milk and a pint of cream, mesophillic culture, and a bit of rennet. Cream cheese recipes I’ve read call for more cream. Now I am totally confused! As Sandra noted, your authentique cheese looks like a Brie or Camembert.

    Whatever it really should be called, *my* Neufchatel is a delight–like a good chevre, but without the goatiness. In fact, I’m topping tonight’s quiche with it momentarily.

  • Bonjour David,

    I stumbled onto your website a while back and have been reading it ever since. All your suggestions have been amazing. Recently I had my first helping of Neufchâtel and I must say, I almost ate half the heart by the end of the meal! That’s some tasty cheese!

    Yum yum! Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi David,
    When I read your piece about Neufchatel and saw the picture of the beautiful heart shaped cheese, I felt deeply, deeply depressed. I know all the cheese counters of all the big supermarkets around Malta by heart, and I knew that there was no hope for the Neufchatel… Yes, I love cheese :)
    But, last friday evening, my eyes literally popped out when I saw this heart shaped delicacies on the cheese counter of my local supermarket. Obviously, I bought a packet. It was my friday night treat with a nice glass of wine. They are delicious, thank you :)