What Is Neufchatel Cheese?

Have you heard of Neufchatel cheese? I hadn’t. Or maybe I had, but always just assumed it was someone sneezing. Either way, it piqued my interest, as cheese so often does. Neufchatel cheese is strikingly similar to cream cheese, but with a few little quirks that make it just as fun to eat as it is to pronounce (it’s “noof-sha-tell,” by the way).

Neufchatel cheese is something you’ve probably passed a million times in the grocery store without even knowing it. Maybe you’ve even eaten it without realizing. In finding the answers to these questions, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve brought it home from the store, eaten the whole thing, and never noticed, considering the explicit labeling of “Neufchatel” is so small and tucked into the corner that it’d go undiscovered until Sherlock Holmes had an insatiable bagel craving. 

What is Neufchatel cheese?

Neufchatel cheese is almost cream cheese. That’s the easy answer. But then there’s that answer that your one historical foodie friend might give, always preceded by “well, teeeeeeecccchnically…”

The original Neufchatel is a French cheese from the 6th century, named after the town of Neufchatel in Normandy. It’s said to be the oldest known cheese in France, and its production process has stayed true to original methods. It’s an unripened cheese made with cow’s milk that develops a soft rind when left to ripen. It’s often molded in the shape of a heart, which makes it immensely satisfying to cut into if you’re having charcuterie to celebrate ditching that ex. 

The French Neufchatel is an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) cheese, meaning that in order to have that name, the product must be produced in a specific location. The famous example of an AOC product is Champagne, which has to be from the Champagne region of France.

American Neufchatel is a bit different (and, obviously, doesn’t need to be made in Normandy). While the French version is made with only milk, the American version is made with cream, as well. It does not come in a heart shape, but rather the 8-ounce rectangle that we all know gets a bagel brunch bumping like nobody’s business. This American version tastes much closer to cream cheese, and is pasteurized, while the French version is much more salty and pungent. 

Is Neufchatel cheese the same as cream cheese?

No, Neufchatel isn’t exactly cream cheese, but I understand the confusion. While the French product is more distinct, the American version can often serve as a direct substitute for cream cheese. In fact, legend has it cream cheese was invented by a New York dairyman who was trying to replicate the popular French cheese in the late 1880s. 

William Lawrence got pretty darn close to creating his own version of Neufchatel, but by using cream as well as milk he created something totally new: cream cheese. He sold it in foil-wrapped bricks, which he marketed as Philadelphia Cream Cheese. According to Bon Appetit, he did this because Philadelphia was known for their dairy—not because it was made there, sorry, Philly. 

Per Tasting Table, Lawrence may not have actually been the inventor of cream cheese, but he was the first to mass-market it. And today, you can still buy both Philadelphia cream cheese and Philadelphia Neufchatel (it’s the stuff marketed as having 1/3 less fat!). 

What is the difference between cream cheese and Neufchatel cheese?

Besides one having a more fun name, the main difference between cream cheese and Neufchatel cheese is fat content. Cream cheese has to contain at least 33% milk fat and no more than 55% moisture, but American Neufchatel has about 23% milk fat and a higher moisture content. They’re both slightly tangy, spreadable, soft cheeses, but Neufchatel is just a touch lighter, and often people report a slight graininess to the texture. The European version has a rind and is made with raw cow’s milk allowed to ripen over time, while the American version, in true American fashion, is processed to hell. 

Can I use Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese?

As a spread, Neufchatel and cream cheese are pretty interchangeable, depending on how sensitive your palate is. Cream cheese is a little fattier, so it’s a little smoother and richer, but Neufchatel wouldn’t be embarrassed by its ability to adhere some lox to a bagel. If you’re cooking or baking with Neufchatel, that’s where things get dicey. Because of its lower fat content and higher moisture level, Neufchatel might call for a slight reassessment or tweak to the recipe. It also doesn’t contain stabilizers, so there may be separation when it melts, as opposed to the binding and thickening that cream cheese does so well.  

About the Author

Hebba Gouda

Hebba Gouda is a freelance contributor to Sporked who will die on the hill that a hot dog is not a sandwich. She’s proud to spend weekends falling asleep at 9 p.m. listening to podcasts, always uses the Oxford comma, and has been described as “the only person who actually likes New Jersey.” She’d love to know how on earth she somehow always has dirty dishes, if donkeys hear better than horses, and how the heck you’re doing today? Hopefully swell - thanks for reading!

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