When in France…
Waitress: Ma’am, what kind of dressing would you like?
Waitress: Sorry ma’am, we only have blue cheese. Will that be ok?
Huh? I thought Roquefort and blue cheese were the same thing? Well, let me tell you, it is not! Just like the French have coined and now own the term “champagne,” and all the rest of the world must call theirs “sparkling wine”, they have done the same thing with Roquefort cheese.
Roquefort is produced in the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the south of France. Only the cheese made in this region can bear the name “Roquefort.” All others must only be called “blue.”
There are extremely strict rules for making this variation of cheese, and taking a tour run by Papillon, one of the manufacturer’s, was a true lesson.
To begin with,the milk can only be gathered from special ewe’s (from the Lacaune, Manech and Basco-Béarnaise breeds) and only in one distinct area that encompasses about 23 square kilometers. According to the 1961 decree, only this small production area can claim the right to be called Roquefort cheese.
Why here? Well legend has it that a young shepard was eating his lunch and saw his beloved stroll past. With his lunch forgotten, he chased after her for a quick kiss and didn’t rediscover his meal until about two months later when the cheese had turned to Roquefort with its tell-tale blue streaks.
So what causes those blue streaks? Mold. Pure and simple. Mold. The caves produce this mold by commissioning a huge buy of bread loaves. The loaves are round and about 15 inches in diameter. They give the baker specific instructions to bake the bread at a very high temperature.
This bakes the crust and leaves the inside of the bread quite doughy. The loaves are stacked in the cellars and left for forty days where they grow a pretty blue-green, almost turquoise colored mold, which is then injected into the cheese and left to age. Yum, yum!
This mold is said to have healing properties, and can cure any number of diseases. And it is true that much later, in the early 1900’s, Alexander Fleming called mold penicillin and even won a Nobel Prize for his discovery. So there must be something to the health attributes of Roquefort, right?
At any rate, it tastes delicious! What can you do with this cheese, you ask?
I like to eat it a number of ways. One of my favorites is on a salad with some good cured ham, nuts, orange or pear slices, and some balsamic vinegar.
Another way is to make it into a cream sauce and pour it over a steak. I first had this in Brussels, Belgium and it is to die for!
How do you like your Roquefort cheese?