Roquefort Cheese

 Culture Magazine originally shared this link to an archival video from Papillon documenting Roquefort production back in the 1920’s. As they say “Great for mustache aficionados, or anyone looking to catch a glimpse into cheesemaking’s past.” The first half is silent with French music around the 6 1/2 minute marker it’s a more contemporary and narrated show.  

Big, bold and blue in the world of cheese, blues are certainly not shy.  The three standard bearers, Stilton, Gorgonzola and Roquefort are each distinct. However, Roquefort is singularly pugent, assertive and sharp. Made from raw ewe’s  milk (a female sheep) from the south of France, Roquefort is made entirely from the milk of the Lacaune, Manech andBasco-Béarnaise breeds of sheep.  Based on overall production volumes it is the second most popular cheese of this country after Comté.

Legend and lore abound, suggesting that this cheese was pure chance.  A love-stuck shepard who while eating his lunch of bread and sheep’s milk cheese was distracted by a sun-kissed maiden and left his meal in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Forgetting about his meal he returned days later only to discover the cheese covered in mold.  In 1411 Charles VI of France gave sole rights to the ageing of Roquefort cheese to the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, and all Roquefort still must be aged in the caves there today. Today the mold is injected into the cheese to ensure even distribution, but it is still aged in the same caves.

The blue veining is the mold Penicillium roqueforti, and originally came from the walls of the limestone caves in the south of France where the cheese was ripened. I once read a profile on James Beard that on his first TV show, the 1946 ‘I Love to Eat’,  he applied ink to color the veining of Roquefort cheese so it would be more pronounced on television.

The Roquefort Association designates a genuine Roquefort cheese with the marking of a red sheep on the foil label.  Only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may carry the name as this cheese has AOC protected status.   Typically there are around 40,000 round pains, (loaves) maturing in these caves for around 3 to 4 months. Leftover ewe’s milk from Roquefort production is used to make Valbreso French Feta, an equally tasty brined cheese. Roquefort is typically best between April and October after its ripening period.

There are seven Roquefort producers with the largest being Roquefort Société followed by Roquefort Papillon and Gabriel Coullet. The four other producers are Carles, Fromageries Occitanes, Vernières and Combes (Le Vieux Berger).

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