Many popular American desserts, such as cheesecake and confections, rely on cream cheese for their creamy texture and mild flavor. This soft cheese is also a common ingredient in sauces and casseroles. When you find yourself short on cream cheese, you may wonder if you can substitute Neufchatel cheese instead. The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.
Cream Cheese Basics
American cream cheese combines pasteurized milk and cream to form a soft white cheese, typically sold in rectangular bars wrapped in foil. Cream cheese spreads easily at room temperature making it a favorite for topping bagels and crackers or creating savory dips for chips or veggies. American cream cheese contains at least 33 percent milk fat and no more than 55 percent moisture.
French Neufchatel Cheese
Neufchatel cheese originated in France in the sixth century. According to legend, young girls in Neufchatel-en-Bray, a small village in Normandy, shaped this raw cow’s milk cheese into hearts to give to their beloved. French Neufchatel cheese is soft and spreadable with a rind similar to Brie. The inside of the cheese is mild, soft and crumbly but develops a stronger flavor as it ripens. It is typically sold unripened, or at an age of six to 10 weeks. French Neufchatel cheese is not the same as cream cheese and cannot be substituted without altering the flavor and texture of the recipe.
American Neufchatel Cheese
American Neufchatel cheese, however, is similar to cream cheese in both flavor and texture. It contains slightly less fat, 23 percent, and contains more moisture. Like cream cheese, American Neufchatel is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. American Neufchatel cheese is slightly softer and lighter in flavor than cream cheese, but makes minimal difference in flavor or texture in most recipes.
American Neufchatel cheese is lower in fat and calories than cream cheese making it a health-conscious choice for cooking. Its softness lends itself well to cheese spreads, dips and sauces when the difference in texture will go unnoticed or is preferred. In recipes that rely on the firmness of cream cheese, such as some quick cheesecake recipes, the result may be softer than desired. As rule, unless softness is an issue, American Neufchatel cheese serves as a good substitute for regular cream cheese in nearly any recipe.