Upper Normandy Neufchâtel cheese is a traditional tasty French cheese, creamier and lighter than regular cows milk cheeses from Lower Normandy such as Pont l'Eveque or Camembert AOC. Differing from its Norman "cousin", the Neufchatel soft cheese was not originally made by monks but the latter used to promote this handmade product throughout France.
Norman cheese lovers like claiming that this typical produce of Neufchâtel-en-Bray is the oldest cheese produced in the Normandy region. According to the history, the first Neufchatel recipe dates back to the 16th century, in the Saint-Aman Abbey of Rouen, Upper Normandy. Apparently, at that time the refined creamy cheese was already matured in cellars and naturally covered with the typical Brie and Camembert mould, penicillium candidum.
This traditional French product has been produced with expertise, respecting the rules of Upper Normandy's first producers. Once the milk has coagulated for 24 to 36 hours, the curd is drained off and the resulting "paste" is pressed during 12 hours. Covered with the specific traditional mould, the paste is finally moulded and matures on shelves in cellars for about 10 days, during which the cheeses are regularly salted.
Neufchatel cheese is highly appreciated for its flowered rind and very soft taste which differs from true cream cheese since this traditional Norman product is made from whole milk and not from cream.
Since the beginning of the Neufchatel production, this Upper Normandy's cheese has adopted many different shapes, from "briquette" or "bondon" squares of 100 gr to "heart" and "double-bonde" of 200 gr.
Such variations depended on fashion or simply on the local producers' moulds. But it is believed in Upper Normandy that the heart shape is due to the young Norman women that wanted to express discreetly their feelings to the English soldiers during the wars in the Middle Ages!
Whilst in the 19th century the Neufchatel cheese was highly produced (thanks to Napoleon III who was said to appreciate this Norman soft cheese), the production strongly decreased in France after World War II, since the national milk was widely sold to industrial dairies. The most recent element that made Neufchatel known as a gourmet French product was when the Norman cheese received the French AOC Quality Label in 1969.