Neufchatel Cheese - A Spreadable Delight
Neufchatel cheese, American cream cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, and Farmer's cheese are four different cheeses that are somewhat alike but with some notable differences. Neufchatel cheese is a cheese that is not too difficult to make, and although it will likely not resemble a true Neufchatel all that closely, it still is a remarkably nice cheese to have for spreading.
There is only one true Neufchatel cheese, and it comes from France, from upper Normandy to be exact. The history of Neufchatel cheese is not any more interesting than the history of some of the better known French cheeses, with the exception that it may well be the oldest cheese produced in France, or at least the oldest cream cheese. It's believed to date back to at least the 6th century, and has not chanced a great deal since. Traditionally, French Neufchatel is prepared in the form or a large heart. Why, no one knows for certain, but that's often how you will find it, although it is marketed in bricks or logs as well.
Neufchatel cheese can be purchased unripened or ripened. In the unripened form it is a smooth creamy cheese, with a rather delicate flavor, and ideal for spreading. In its ripened form it has an edible rind, a much more pungent odor, and is a bit grainy or crumbly. To some, the ripened form has a taste and odor similar to mushrooms. This isn't surprising since French Neufchatel is made from milk that has not been pasteurized, and is mold-ripened. Although the flavor is somewhat different, Neufchatel bears a resemblance to Brie and Camembert cheeses.
The American Versions - An attempt to produce Neufchatel cheese in the United States in the late 19th century resulted in a cheese which was similar, but not quite the same as the French version. One of the reasons is that the American cheese uses cream in addition to milk, while the French version does not use cream. Also, the American version uses pasteurized milk. American Neufchatel is softer and more creamy than what is called American cream cheese or Philadelphia cream cheese, but still is not the same as the French Neufchatel. American Neufchatel cheese has been, and still is to some extent, called Farmer's cheese.
Making Your Own Neufchatel Cheese - A gallon of whole milk, 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk, and a quarter tablet Rennet is all one needs to make a batch of Neufchatel cheese. A 5 quart stainless steel pot with a lid and a strainer are the utensils needed. A thermometer can come in handy as well. It only takes a day or two days at most to make a mild but pleasant tasting, very spread able cheese.
The only "cooking" involved is to boil some water in the steel pot to make certain it is sterilized. As far as the cheese production itself is concerned, it is done at room temperature or slightly lower (65 degrees F is considered about ideal). The milk, buttermilk, and rennet are blended together; the pot is covered, and allowed to sit overnight, and the next morning, or perhaps later the next day.
Once a soft curd has formed, it is cut into pieces and the pieces placed in a strainer or colander in which a clean cotton cloth or a cheesecloth has been placed. The whey (the remaining liquid) is also poured through the cloth. The cloth is then hung by its four corners and the whey allowed to drip out. The curds need to hang over night. By the next morning you should have succeeded in separating the curds and whey and the cloth will contain your very own brand of Neufchatel cheese, or at least the American version, which can be put in containers and kept refrigerated until ready to use.