Earlier today, as I was opening a package of Kraft Philadelphia don’t-call-it-Cream-Cheese 1/3 Less Fat (marginally more healthy and softer straight out of the fridge) Neufchâtel Cheese (the pre-Thanksgiving sale at the super was 4 blocks for $5… how could I NOT buy 4 blocks?!?), I suddenly realized that in all the years I’ve been consuming it, I’d never said the product name out loud, didn’t recall hearing anyone ever say it and had no idea how to pronounce Neufchâtel!
I’ve never had the need to say it out loud, having always taken it off the shelf when it was on sale, and on the rare occasion I talked to someone about a foodstuff where I’d used it, I always just called it Philly. At that point I realized I was dealing with the only food product available in the U.S. that sounded less special when you used the French name. But I never said the French name and I didn’t know how to say the French name.
Not a spiritual or existential crisis, but still a quandary of sorts. So, when I left the kitchen and returned to my Sino-American laptop*, the first thing I did was a websearch** for “Neufchatel”. Of course, Wikipedia came up first, but its article, while confirming something I’d long suspected, that American Neufchâtel wasn’t the same as the Original French Neufchâtel, it offered no pronunciation guidance. A link to Cheese.com was also disappointing (it didn’t mention the American version at all), the next search result, “Wisegeek”, was no help and the next link after that showed how to make Neufchâtel, but not how to say it out loud.
Finally, Epicurious.com had the too-long awaited answer: noo-shuh-tell, with the accent on either the first or third syllable (but if you talk like I do, emphasizing either will result in a semi-emphasis on the other). As I had suspected and hoped, that awkwardly positioned “f” was silent (it seems like half the consonants in French are silent, doesn’t it?), because ft it weren’t, some American regional accents would make it sound like NERF-CHATTLE. Which is another reason for the bad blood between France and some American regions.
But what this extremely trivial adventure in Web-based research showed me was that, after umpteen years of massive growth in the disorganized database called the Internet, we are NOWHERE NEAR having “everything at our fingertips”. Maybe if Neufchâtel were also a slang term for a sexual practice 99% of us consider disgusting, it would be different. And if it were, it certainly would’ve been in the first five results (I live dangerously by searching in un-filtered mode). Come to think of it, this blog post has probably set Internet Rule 34 into motion. I’m sure Neufchâtel Cheese porn would also feature Smuckers Jams & Jellies (because with a name like Smuckers, it has to be dirty), and bagels… bagels with tight little [THIS STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS HAS BEEN STOPPED BY WENDELL'S BETTER JUDGMENT]
*it’s a ThinkPad, manufactured far enough back to have an “IBM” label on it.
**after all my documented problems with Google, I don’t even verbify their corporate name anymore.