The esteemed title of Normandy’s Most Ancient Cheese is held by Neufchâtel, with its eye-catching heart shape. This cheese has reportedly been in production for almost 1000 years; some say even longer. Up until the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) however, Neufchâtel’s distinctive shape was nowhere to be found. Pre-14th-century, it was sold either as a small brick, square or cylinder, shapes that can still be found today alongside the more common coeur.
According to legend, the genesis of Neufchâtel’s distinctive shape dates to the English invasion of Normandy and the cheese’s hometown of Neufchâtel-en-Bray during the Hundred Years’ War. Besotted young local women created the heart-shaped cheeses to give to the foreign soldiers as a token of their affection.
Neufchâtel’s popularity surged in the 19th century, then dipped in the 20th century before receiving AOC protection to ensure quality in 1969 and AOP status in 1996. Rules state that at least 60 percent of the milk used to make this cheese must come from la vache Normande, cows known for producing top-quality milk rich in protein and butterfat and prized for cheese making.
Don’t confuse this time-honored French fromage with the low-fat cream cheese found at supermarkets around the world! A good Neufchâtel is wrapped in a fine velvety rind similar to its Normandy cousin, Camembert. It can be enjoyed young and firm or aged for several weeks, at which point it develops a creamline just under the rind and has a chalky, crumbly center. On the nose, this delightful cheese has aromas of earthy mushrooms and milk, which become more pronounced as it ages. Its flavors range from fresh cream to crème fraîche, with hints of yeast, salt and nuts.
What’s not to love?