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Neufchâtel cheese comes in many shapes and sizes: rounds, bricks, logs, but most distinctively – and most appropriate for Valentine’s Day – in heart-shapes.

Of all Normandy’s cheeses, Neufchâtel claims the longest history. Cheesemaking in Normandy goes back to at least the 11th century; a document written in the mid-1000s refers to cheese being used to pay tithes to the Abbaye Saint Sauveur at Evreux. This may explain why cheeses like Neufchâtel, Livarot and Pont l’Evèque were called ‘angelots’. An ‘angelot’ is an angel, but there was a coin called an ‘angelot’ that depicted the Archangel Michael. This design may have been imprinted onto the cheese by cheese moulds. However, another explanation is that ‘angelot’ simply meant made in the Pays d’Auge; yet another suggestion is that cheeses were made in the shape of angels’ wings. ‘Fromages angelots’ are mentioned in the 13th century literary work ‘le Roman de la Rose’. 

The tradition for moulding Neufchâtel into hearts is said to have begun during the Hundred Years War. The English had decided that by rights France should be theirs, and it took the French a long time to convince them otherwise. Consequently Normandy was overrun with English soldiers, integrating well with the locals and setting feminine hearts aflutter. But the Norman lasses were too shy to say anything, or maybe there was a language barrier. Finally the girls of Neufchâtel-en-Bray decided to ‘say it with cheese’, and one Christmas they made heart-shaped cheeses to give to the English soldier-boys. Is that romantic – or is it just cheesy?