Or rather, why I ♥ Neufchatel.
|Photo by Myrabella on Wikipedia|
It's the cutest cheese in any French market. It's made in little heart-shaped moulds. (Wikipedia says it's sometimes made in other shapes, but I've never seen them.) There is no other cheese you could actually buy as a romantic Valentine's Day present.
I expected it to be a creamy, oozing sort of cheese like a Brie or Camembert - it's another of the great Norman cheeses, along with Camembert, Livarot, and Pont-l'Eveque - but it's quite firm and chalky in texture. On the outside, it has a lovely soft rind, like white velvet - softer than Camembert; it's almost like the powdery texture of butterflies' wings. Wonderful.
As for the taste, it doesn't have the ammonia that spoils Camembert for me, but it has a combination of mushroomy flavour with a slightly lemony acid edge that makes it quite sharp. The heart might suggest a very sweet creamy and perhaps inoffensive cheese - but it's got a lot more character than that, though you couldn't call it a wolf in sheep's clothing. (A nanny goat in sheep's clothing, perhaps.)
It's beautifully spreadable - or rather, flattenable, because this isn't a cheese that's fluid, like a melting, oozing Brie.
And if this wasn't enough to love it, it's also one of the oldest cheeses in France, going back to at least the eleventh century, and possibly earlier. A little taste of history, in the shape of a heart.
PS, for American readers: I'm told there's a kind of cream cheese in the US called Neufchatel. It's not the same at all.