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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Neufchâtel (Neufchatel) Fromage AOP. The Coeur de Neufchâtel, the heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The Coeur de Neufchâtel, the heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese.
Neufchâtel  AOC/AOP
A slightly tangy, creamy, cow’s milk cheese from Normandy with a fat content of 45%. The cheese is matured for a minimum of ten days and up to a maximum of three months. Nearly all Neufchâtel cheese comes from an area of about 50 km ( 31 miles) around the town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray, Normandie, from where the cheese’s name was taken. Neufchâtel-en-Bray is a small attractive town with a population of about 5,000 in the department of Seine-Maritime in Haute-Normandie, Upper Normandy. Neufchâtel is close to France’s Atlantic coast, about 40 km (25 miles) from the very large passenger, freight and fishing port of Dieppe.
About the different  forms of Neufchatel cheese.
Young Neufchâtel AOC cheeses are mild, creamy and lightly salty and quite unlike the North American cheese which uses the same name. The longer this cheese is allowed to mature the stronger it will be; nevertheless as a mild cheese it never becomes very strong. There are six different shapes of the cheese and each has a very slight different difference in taste and texture; that is apart from differences that occur due to aging. Some 85% of the Neufchâtel cheeses sold are made with non-pasteurized milk with the rest being export versions made with pasteurized milk
I was introduced to Neufchâtel in a Parisian fromagerie, a cheese shop, many years ago. Then I was offered to two similar shaped Neufchâtel cheeses at two different and ages and a third Neufchâtel cheese of a different shape. The first two cheeses were Neufchâtel Gournays of different ages, these I was told, had the closest taste to the original Neufchâtel; one cheese was two weeks old and the other six weeks. The older cheese seemed to have less of the light salty taste of the younger cheese, it was still creamy and mild but noticeable stronger. The second cheese was a Coeur de Neufchâtel, a heart shaped cheese; this Neufchâtel heart is probably the most popular of all the Neufchâtel cheeses. Is the popularity due to the shape or the taste? I am not sure. The cheese I tasted had been aged for one month and it did seem creamier than the Neufchâtel Gournays.  Nevertheless, there was not a serious difference in taste or texture. Ever since that introduction whenever I come home from France one of the cream cheeses I buy is a Neufchâtel. I choose whichever cheese is available, but preferably a cheese that had been allowed to mature for one month.
Neufchâtel is produced in different shapes, all with claims to slightly different tastes; to that add the aging and you may find yourself with a whole range of tastes and textures.  Like wines which share the same name; when you compare wines from different vintners and at different ages there may be very different tastes.

Taste two different Neufchatels before buying.

Despite the varied choices when you go to buy a Neufchâtel AOC cheese from a good fromager do not expect to see more than two varieties.  With six different shapes, each with its own claim to a slightly different taste, keeping all six in stock and at different ages would exponentially increase the number of cheeses in the shop and a that is a very expensive operation.  

When you are considering French cheeses to take home, I do recommend a Neufchâtel. With all the possible variations that I have tasted over the years, I have not found one that I did not like. For more information on buying cheeses in France and taking them home click here.
The different forms of Neufchâtel cheese.
You will see that each version of this cheese has a suffix or prefix added to the name Neufchâtel; the suffix identifies the shape, weight and more. The best cheese shops will keep the most popular cheese in stock and age it themselves. They often add monthly specials, sometimes including a different Neufchâtel so that their customers will come back regularly and enjoy different tastes and textures

It would need a great deal more historical investigation than I have had time for to write about all the traditions claimed by Neufchatel and its history.  What is certain is that Neufchâtel  was first made nearly 500 years ago and that is long enough, I believe, to permit some acceptable confusion in the stories behind the traditions.  Neufchâtel has a very old recipe and after 500 years it still has an excellent reputation

At my original introduction to this cheese, I was told that in the early stage of production the cheese is made in a somewhat similar manner to Camembert, another Norman cheese with a completely different taste. By the end of the process, Neufchâtel is clearly different to Camembert, Brie, Reblochon and other French semi-soft creamy cheeses. Neufchâtel is a cream cheese made from whole milk, not cream, and so it is one of the few semi-soft cheeses that may be sold when only ten days old.

A Salade Brayonne.
The area around Neufchâtel-en-Bray is called the Pay du Bray, the Land of Bray.
So a salad from the Land of Bray is salad greens, lardons (bacon pieces) and a very large serving of Neufchâtel.
Some Neufchâtel mavens prefer the young cheeses straight out of the cellar while others prefer the more mature cheeses with a  deeper flavor, Young or old this is one of France’ cheeses where the rind may be eaten. Depending on the age the rind also gives different textures, colors and flavors. Once you have tasted this cheese note the full name and the age and a few notes about the taste; when you return to France buy a different Neufchâtel with a similar age and then enjoy while you note the difference.

The six different shapes of Neufchâtel

The six traditional shapes all claim slightly different tastes though the most popular is the heart shaped
 Neufchâtel-Bondon, Bondart or  Bonde. This cheese is made in the shape considered the closest to the original cheese.  It comes in the shape of a cylindrical barrel plug, a barrel bung, which is what a “bondon” means. This is sold as a 100 gram cheese and as a 200 gram Double Bondon.
Neufchâtel Gournay is produced around the town of Gournay-en-Bray  some 40 km (25 miles) from Neufchâtel en Bray. This is a 100 gram round cheese.

A cheese cake made with Neufchâtel.
Neufchâtel Malakoff . This cheese I was told is a young 100 gram Neufchâtel Gournay cheese; however, I have never received a satisfactory explanation of its Russian sounding name.
Neufchâtel Carre.  This is a 100 gram square shaped Neufchâtel.

Neufchâtel Briquette.   This a 100 gram oblong shaped Neufchâtel.
Coeur de Neufchâtel; the heart of Neufchatel. The most popular Neufchâtel cheese. I think that may be because of its shape though it may also have a slightly creamier taste. This cheese is made in two sizes. The smaller heart weighs 200 grams while the larger version weighs 600 grams.
If you are in the area of Neufchâtel en Bray or Gournay en Bray go to the local tourist information office for a map of their unofficial Route de Fromage, the Neufchâtel cheese road. You can spend a morning or afternoon tasting the cheeses while not forgetting to stop off along the way for some of France’s best Norman cider and a taste of the local Calvados apple brandies Calvados AOP. Normandy produces one of France’s two AOC/AOP ciders, that is the Cidre de Pays d'Auge AOC/AOP. The route will also take you past some very good local restaurants.

Just think about choosing a single cheese
 in a French cheese shop.
Promoting the Neufchâtel cheeses of all types are the Confrérie des Compagnons du Fromage de Neufchâtel, the Knight Companions of the Neufchâtel cheese. These brave knights defend their chosen cheese again cheap copies and also arrange a Fête du Fromage, a cheese fair.  Every year over the 3rd weekend in September in the town of Neufchâtel en Bray you may join in the celebrations and have as many tastings as you wish.  If you fall in love with Neufchâtel cheeses you may apply to join these brave knights and wear their would-be ancient costumes.

The Confrérie des Compagnons du Fromage de Neufchâtel.
This Confrérie has a page on the Neufchatel cheeses French language website: it may easily be understood using the Bing or Google translate apps.

The town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray has a French language website:

Visiting Neufchatel-en-Bray
For those who are traveling in Normandy, Neufchâtel-en-Bray is just 50 km (31 miles), forty minutes by car, from the city of Rouen, the capital of Haut Normandy. Buses take one hour and there are four buses a day.  Rouen is situated on the River Seine and is famous for its 16th century cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. The Cathedral was made even more famous by the series of paintings that Claude Monet did in different seasons and at different times. Rouen was also site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake so it is best not to mention that if you come from England!

If you are traveling from Paris to Normandy’s Atlantic coast via Giverny to see the house and garden of Monet then Neufchâtel may be a good place to stop along the way for their Route de Fromage and lunch.

Neufchâtel-en-Bray is about 1hour and 20 minutes 117 km (73 miles) from Giverny. By bus and train the same distance is, unfortunately, four hours. From Neufchâtel-en-Bray to the Atlantic coast at the port of Diepe  is 40 km (25 miles) about 45 minutes by car and 50 minutes by bus. All of Normandy, with large amounts of wonderful Norman milk and cream available, produces many local cheeses that do not have AOC labels. Many of these cheeses are excellent but with limited production; they are often only to be tasted when visiting the villages and small towns along the way and, of course, at the farms where they are made.

Traveling south along France’s Atlantic coast is a joy with beautiful small towns, fishing ports and mussel and oyster farms to visit and enjoy.  The town of Fécamp with its not to be missed incredible factory come palace where they make the liquor Bénédictine D.O.M. is 65 km (40 miles) and about an hour and a quarter by car  and about 3 hours by bus or train from Dieppe.
The English language website for the whole of  Normandy is:

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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