"Life is great. Cheese makes it better."
― Avery Aames, The Long Quiche Goodbye
Soft and fresh with that amazing tang, cream cheese is a form of unripened cheese that is used extensively in frosting, cheesecakes, and dips. While shopping for cream cheese in grocery and specialty cheese stores, you might have seen Neufchâtel cheese placed on the same shelf. Now, you may be confused whether to take cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese. After all, they look the same and have almost similar packaging as well, and aren't both these soft cheese made from cow's milk and cream?
Apart from the rather long name, the main difference between Neufchâtel cheese and cream cheese is their place of origin. While Neufchâtel cheese is made in Neufchâtel-en-Bray in northern Normandy, France, cream cheese is an American invention developed in 1872 in New York State. Although they are made from milk and cream, there are slight differences in the fat content, taste, and texture of both cheese types.
Neufchâtel Cheese vs. Cream Cheese
American vs. French
The main difference between Neufchâtel cheese and cream cheese is their country of origin. The Neufchâtel cheese originates in the town of Neufchâtel in the Haute Normandy region, Pays de Bray. It is one of the oldest cheese made in France, and is a member of the AOC family. According to a legend, during the Hundred Years' War
, young maidens of this region shaped the cheese into heart shapes and offered them to the English conquerors.
In an effort to recreate the French cheese, an American dairy man, William Lawrence of Chester, N.Y. developed this cheese in 1872. It was produced and sold in large volumes under the trade name "Philadelphia Brand''. This brand and the Philadelphia trademark was later taken over by the Phoenix Cheese Company of New York in 1903, and later by Kraft Foods in 1928, who still continue to produce this cheese.
Along with cream cheese, there is an American version of Neufchâtel cheese in the market as well. Similar to cream cheese, this version of Neufchâtel cheese contains lesser calories and more moisture than cream cheese.
Apart from the country of origin, the biggest difference between the two cheese is that French Neufchâtel cheese is made only from raw cow's milk, while cream cheese and the American Neufchâtel cheese are made from pasteurized or unskimmed milk and cream.
Both cheese variants of soft-white cheese look very similar. Both are soft, white, and smooth textured. Neufchâtel cheese is usually heart shaped, although, sometimes, you may find this cheese in other forms, shapes, and sizes such as cylinders, brick shapes, and squares. The cheese is grainy, crumbly, and close textured with a soft, downy, velvety bloomy rind. French Neufchâtel cheese is matured on shelves for eight to 10 weeks.
Unlike French cheese, cream cheese is firmed with the use of lactic acid. Sometimes, stabilizers, like guar gum, are added to make the cheese firm, else it tends to be crumbly. It is not naturally matured and has no rind. Cream cheese is highly perishable and has to be consumed within one week after opening.
Since cream cheese is made using milk and cream, it contains 33% milk fat, and a moisture content of not more than 55%. In comparison, Neufchâtel cheese is made only from milk, and therefore, contains 23% milk fat. The American Neufchâtel cheese also has slightly lesser calories than cream cheese. The lesser fat means that this cheese is often sold as a reduced-fat option to cream cheese, and is great for people wanting to lose weight.
Taste and Aroma
The Neufchâtel cheese is a gourmet's delight and is believed to have the aroma and taste of mushrooms. The rich, nutty, and slightly yeasty taste is marked and reminiscent of another soft cow's milk cheese, Camembert. The cheese is often sold after it is matured for six to ten weeks, but if matured further, the taste becomes smoother and stronger over the weeks.
Cream cheese is mild, sweet-tasting cheese that is usually flavored with herbs, black pepper, garlic, and fruits. Both cheese variants are used widely for toppings, sweet and savory dishes, dips, and frosting as they are smooth and spreadable at room temperature.
Some people buy the American version of Neufchâtel cheese believing it to be the original French cheese. However, the American Neufchâtel cheese is more like cream cheese than the French version. Before buying, do read the label so that you do not confuse between the French and American versions of Neufchâtel cheese.