Saturday, 13 February 2010

Say I Love You with Cheese

What types of food do we think of as romantic?

Cheese? Well, there is one cheese that comes to mind: Neufchâtel. It’s from Normandy, a region in the northwest of France, and it is typically the shape of a heart. (Not to be confused with what Kraft markets as a low-calorie version of Philadelphia cream cheese--also, alas, called Neufchatel.)

The history of a cheese Valentine

Apparently, young Norman women for centuries have used these heart-shaped cheeses to communicate their love to the objects of their desire. A Valentine made of cheese. According to French farmgirls used the cheese to “woo the affections of British soldiers who were passing through during the Hundred Years War in the Middle Ages.” Cheese, the universal language. Even though women’s liberation has since rendered such discreet expressions of love unnecessary, the tradition of the heart-shaped Neufchâtel happily endures. (Neufchâtel also comes in other shapes, like logs and circles, but why buy them?)

A.K.A. Cœurs de Bray

The heart-shaped Neufchâtels are also sometimes called Cœurs de Bray, meaning Hearts of Bray, since the cheese is from an area in the northeastern part of Normandy called the Pays de Bray (Land of Bray). "Bray" is old French for marsh, swamp or mud, a reference to the area's soil. (I cannot personally vouch for its swampiness.) Neufchâtel-en-Bray is one of the main towns of the Pays de Bray, hence the cheese's name: Neufchâtel.

But what does it taste like?

Neufchâtel is a soft cow’s milk cheese with an edible bloomy white rind. “Bloomy rind” is cheese-speak for having an exterior covered with thin layer of a powdery white substance that I think is probably mold. I couldn’t, however, find a source that explicitly said “bloom = mold.” (You can bone up on your cheese jargon with the online glossary of the famed New York cheese shop, Murray's Cheese, at .) Whether you eat the rind or not is a matter of preference--and sometimes a cause for heated discussion. Neufchâtel is dense and creamy, similar to a Camembert but more delicate and slightly less gooey. Love at first bite (to end on an appropriately cheesy note)?

Happy Valentine’s Day!