~ Neufchatel vs Cream Cheese: Are they the same?~
It's impossible to find real-deal French Neufchatel cheese in American dairy cases, and, it's rare to come across it in many specialty cheese shops either. It's even a hassle to order it on-line. I know. I tried all day yesterday. Because of that, most American cooks don't really know what real-deal Neufchatel cheese is. Why? Because what's labeled as Neufchatel and placed in the dairy case next to Philadelphia cream cheese, is the American version of Neufchatel cheese.
So what is French Neufchatel Cheese?
Real-deal French Neufchatel is considered the oldest (or on the short list of oldest) cheese in France, dating back to the 6th century. It's named after the village of Neufchatel-en-Bray, located in Normandy, which means "heart of bray". Legend has it that farm girls shaped the cheese into hearts for their beloveds, many of whom were soldiers during the many wars between the French and English.
Real-deal French Neufchatel is made with raw cows milk, but pasturized cows milk is used to make those being exported to the USA. In unripened form, it is very soft and spreadable. It is coated with a Brie-like rind. It is considered a soft-ripened cheese, and, in its ripened form, its center is firmer and drier than Brie, with a bit of a chalky crumble. The cheese is sold "young", only after 6-10 weeks of ripening. If ripened further, it becomes smoother and stronger in flavor.
American Cream Cheese vs. American Neufchatel Cheese
I grew up in the era of Philadelphia cream cheese. My grandmother used it, my mother uses, and, I use it. While I've seen Neufchatel cheese hundreds of times, I've never given it even a passing thought. In fact, I just bought my first package today so I could write this blog post!
In 1872, William Lawrence, a NY dairyman, created the first American cream cheese in a failed attempt to reproduce Neufchatel. He made the cheese in the same manner as Neufchatel, with cream added to the milk mixture. He named his company Empire Cheese, but named his product Philadelphia Cream Cheese, because he sent it to Philadelphia for packaging and shipment to his buyers. In 1903, Phoenix Cheese of NY bought Empire Cheese along with the "Philadelphia" trademark for it. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was bought by Kraft in 1928. James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, and: Pasteurized Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was born!
American Cream Cheese and American Neufchatel can be used interchangeably!
Both are dense, tangy and spreadable. The biggest difference between the two: the Neufchatel is made using milk exclusively (23% milkfat), and, cream cheese is made with milk and cream (33% milk fat). What does this mean? Neufchatel contains a third less fat, and, even though it is usually marketed as a reduced-fat option to cream cheese, it's still a wholsome real-deal product. I found the Neufchatel to be creamier in texture and slightly less rich-tasting, but not enough to say it's a compromise in flavor in any way. (Certainly not the way I feel about the horrid difference between butter and margarine.) While the cream cheese was slightly richer tasting, I was surprised to find that it had a slightly grainier texture!
Watching your wasteline? Give that American Neufchatel more than a passing thought!
(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)