Neufchâtel is a French cheese made from cow's milk. Its soft texture resembles Camembert and Brie. It is produced in the region of Upper Normandy, where it is considered one of the earliest local cheeses ever made. It's popular for the heart-shaped form of some of the cheeses. This makes it an especially desirable gift for February 14, when many couples around the world celebrate Valentine's Day.
History of Neufchâtel
Neufchâtel is among the cheeses with a centuries' long history. It is believed that the roots of this cheese date back 5 centuries ago, even though according to some it has a significantly older origin. Normandy has long been known for its lush pastures and wonderful cheeses yielding from a special breed of cattle. This is also why this cheese, bearing the name of a small populated area, is no exception. Originally the shape of the cheese was quite plain and not distinguishable in any way.
But because of the events of the Hundred Years' War between England and France (1337 - 1453), they began pressing Neufchâtel in a heart shape. Another key event for the cheese was its gaining АОС (appellation d'origine contrôlée) status, ensuring that the dairy product is made only in a specific region and under strict monitoring of the production process. This occurred in 1969.
Production of Neufchâtel
They say that the cheese is made according to an old recipe, which has been safeguarded for several centuries. Neufchâtel is produced in the period from March to April. The milk is collected, then poured into a special container. Its manufacturing process includes heating it to 68°F (20°C). Starter culture is then added. The milk is left like this for 1 day, sometimes even longer. After, the whey is separated and the fungus Penicillium candidum is added.
Moreover, the same bacteria is used in the production of brie. Thus prepared mass is placed in a special form to get pressed and is then stored in wooden shelves in cellars at a temperature of about 55°F (13°C) and very high humidity. The cheese is ready in about 10 days, but to get a more saturated taste, sharper aroma and to also form a rind, the storage period in the special area takes up to 10 weeks.
Characteristics of Neufchâtel
Neufchâtel can be recognized by its whitish color. It possesses a dry but gentle rind, under which lies a soft consistency, colored white. The rind may also be slightly crumbly. It has a grainy texture, unlike the other soft white cheeses. Neufchâtel's pleasant aroma reminds of mushrooms and mold. The famous French cheese is sold in all kinds of shapes, the most well-known being the heart-shaped one. The "hearts" can be small or large. The small ones weigh about 7 oz (200 g), while the large ones are 3 times heavier. Other shapes available in stores include the square and cylinder.
There exists an American prototype of the French Neufchâtel. During the 2nd half of the 19th century, a New York milkman created the first American cream cheese after he tried to make a batch of Neufchâtel. But the resulting product differed from its French predecessor. That particular Neufchâtel was significantly softer due to its lower content of fats and higher moisture.
Neufchâtel can be eaten without being put into recipes. All that's needed is to combine it with a suitable drink. Thanks to this type of combination, not only will the taste of the cheese be complemented but that of the drink will be as well. Neufchâtel goes well with red wines, as well as dry white wines. If you're given the choice, definitely go for Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux or Merlot. Sweet wines too are perfect with this cheese.
But if you would like to put Neufchâtel into a recipe, you can use it as a sauce for various vegetable salads, pizzas, spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and other pastas. You can use it to further enhance a risotto and potato specialties. A good thing about it is that it can withstand heat treatment, so if you would like to experiment you can do so freely.
Of course we cannot neglect to mention that Neufchâtel is traditionally used in fondue recipes. The taste and fragrance of the dairy product are further enhanced by various spices of choice.
Now let us offer you a fondue with Neufchâtel that is very quick to make but also very fragrant and appetizing.
Preparation: Put the wine in the fondue pot or in a small plain pot, to let it heat. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and add the cheeses (grated ahead of time). Stir everything and slowly add the flour, which can be dissolved in a little wine beforehand.
Once the flour is added, stir energetically until it becomes fully homogenized. Finally add the spices and take the fondue off the stove. Then cut the bread into small bits and dip them in the mixture with a fork.