You've probably been in the dairy aisle at the grocery store and seen a package of Neufchatel cheese sitting right next to the cream cheese in almost identical packaging. But what exactly is it?
Neufchatel (pronounced noof-sha-tel) traces its roots back to the Neufchatel-en-Bray region of Normandy, France. It's believed to to be one of the oldest kinds of French cheese, with production dating back all the way to the 6th century. Traditional Neufchatel is similar to cheeses like Camembert and Brie. It is a soft, mold-ripened cheese, aged 8-10 weeks with a dry, white, edible rind. It has a salty and sharp taste, the aroma and taste of mushrooms, and a grainy texture. Typically, it sold in a heart-shaped form.
American Neufchatel is a little different than the cheese that was invented in France all those years ago. In 1872, a dairy farmer named William Lawrence, took the recipe for Neufchatel cheese, which only uses milk, and added cream. This is the version of Neufchatel cheese you are most likely to see at the grocery store. American Neufchatel cheese is also pasteurized, while French Neufchatel is not.
American Neufchatel and cream cheese are quite similar. The packaging is almost identical and you probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart unpackaged either. However, there are a couple key differences you should keep in mind when choosing between the two:
One of the main differences between Neufchatel and cream cheese is the fat content. By law, cream cheese must have at least 33% milk fat and no more than 55% moisture. In contrast, American Neufchatel has about 23% milk fat and higher moisture.
The flavor difference between cream cheese and Neufchatel is very subtle. Most people don't notice it, especially if they aren't eating it plain. Both cheeses are creamy, dense, tangy, and spreadable. However, Neufchatel is not quite as rich tasting because it does have less fat. It also has a slightly grainy texture.
In the United States, people generally use Neufchatel as a low fat alternative to regular cream cheese, so really, anything you can make with cream cheese you can make with Neufchatel too. Here are a few of our favorite recipes:
Since Neufchatel and cream cheese are often substitutes for each other, you may find difficulty in finding other substitutes for them if you go outside the cream cheese family. These cheeses should work fine as a substitute for either Neufchatel or cream cheese, but make sure you look at the contents of your recipe and figure out what type of consistency and flavor you are going for before you substitute.