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).

What is Stingo?

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While certainly cheese is the most important focus here at the blog we do like to consider pairings of food and drink to go along with it in equal measure.  So we arrive at Stingo.

According to Beerpulse:

For the third installment of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Smokestack Collaboration Series, Boulevard brewmaster, Steven Pauwels joins forces with the husband-and-wife team of Dann and Martha Paquette, the driving force behind “gypsy brewer” Pretty Thing Beer and Ale Project. Together, the brewers have produced a modern version of the traditional English ale known as “Stingo.” This rarely-seen, barrel-aged style originated in the north of England, with historical references dating back to the 17th century. The name itself a slang term for sharp, old beer, so called because it “stings” the palate.

Stingo is not a beer style, but rather an “olde” slang word for strong ale or beer produced in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sounds worth seeking out, right?

Samuel Smith, back in 2009, released a Stingo, it is only available once a year around England’s “Yorkshire Day,” in August, fromtheir press release:

A traditional strong ale that originated in the north of England, “Stingo” is mentioned in literature before 1700. Samuel Smith’s Stingo melds the signature elegance of the brewery’s ales with a long historical tradition. Brewed from British malts and multiple hop varieties, Stingo is fermented in open-topped stone Yorkshire Squares, then aged over a year in oak barrels that previously held cask-conditioned ale, gaining subtle complexity from the wood. Some of the barrels at Samuel Smith’s are over a century old – if a cask is damaged, the coopers carefully replace broken staves and put the cask back into service.

If you were lucky enough to find this new collaboration or the Samuel Smith, an earthy cheese such as a  Colston-Bassett Stilton, the nuttiness of a Comté or a wash-rind such as Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk would stand well with this aged, robust brew.

Irish Blue Cheeses

Jane and Louis Grubb started their farmstead cheese making in 1984 at the family farm in Beechmount, near the old episcopal town of Cashel, in county Tipperary. The dairy farm long produced butter (Irish butter!) and spotted cream Originally experimenting with an old cooper brewer’s vat , Jane eventually settled on a signature blue cheese, as their first cheese, Cashel Blue. This pasteurized cow’s milk blue is a classic. Made from a “closed” herd of Friesian cows it can stand with the other blues such as Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton yet has it’s on flavor personality. When it is young, (3-4 weeks),it is sweet and delicate with just the slightest tang from salt at the tip of the tongue. Its texture is thick and creamy with a buttery color. Cashel ages well (up to 12 weeks), becoming more creamy and pronounced with earthy tones while remaining balanced. It is sweet and carries a spicy note to its creaminess.

Now, fast forward to 1993, Jane is training Geurt van den Dikkenberg a well versed Gouda maker, on how to make Cashel. Over the hill her nephew has started to raise milking sheep, a rarity in Ireland. A number of circumstances related to these two happenings led to the happy re-interpretation as Crozier Blue, Ireland’s only sheep’s milk blue cheese:

A Crozier (or Crook) refers to the hooked staff either carried by a bishop as of pastoral office or by a shepard. The name Crozier Blue is a play on the fact that Crozier Blue is a sheep’s milk cheese and that it is in Cashel that St. Patrick converted the Irish. In fact, St Patrick’s “crozier” can be seen today in the Rock of Cashel.”

It’s profile carries a lot of taste but is sweet making it very approachable for newcomers to blue cheeses. Crozier carries notes of fresh cream, nuts and hay in the finish.

Pairing: West Coast style IPA |North Coast Brewing Acme IPA (hop hop tastic!); Chimay Blue or Connemara Whiskey

The Craft of Making (Cashel) Cheese

On the Slate | Valdeón

I love blue cheese. Personality, complexity and subtleties. What’s not to enjoy when paired with a bold red or a porter or stout beer?

In Spain, Cabrales is the cheese everyone references as the Spanish blue.  It is assertive. I love blues but this one is over the top and not in a favorable way. Let’s say it’s an acquired taste. Produced in the same region as Cabrales, the Picos de Europa region, is Valdeón. Although it stands in its shadow it is not weak.  Surely not as bold it is still no wallflower. It is salty, sharp and certainly rich and creamy–full-flavored as a blue tends to be. If you are familiar with this category of cheeses you will find it stronger than Stilton (England) but less intense than Cabrales (thankfully).

 Wheels of Valdeón are wrapped in sycamore maple leaves, lending to its distinctive appearance and complex flavor.  It is perfect paired with cured meats, dried fruit or as a sauce on top of a steak. Produced with cow and goat’s milk,  that has been pasteurized or sometimes it is raw. The former is aged two months while the pasteurized receives at least a month and a half.

Cheese educator, Janet Fletcher, who led a recent Spanish cheese tasting suggested that in cheese shops Valdeón and Cabrales  are confused. She shared that retailers sometimes label Valdeon as Cabrales, possibly out of ignorance, or maybe because they think it will sell better under the more familiar name. One proof point on what you’re buying is that you want to check for the maple leaves as Cabrales is always wrapped in foil.

Smoked Paprika-Rubbed Steaks with Valdeon Butter

Serrano Ham, Peas, Haircot Vert Salad with Valdeon 

Region: Spain

Milk: Cow and Goat

Age: 2 months

Pairing: IPA Beer, Sauternes, medium bodied red such as Gamay