Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cheese: Roquefort

Roquefort is a blue cheese made out of sheep milk. Like Blue Stilton, another well known blue cheese, it is a PDO (protected designation of origin) under European law. Only cheese aged in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, located in the Aveyron department of southern France, may use the name Roquefort. 
As a boy growing up, I knew blue cheese salad dressing as Roquefort, which is what my parents called it. Then as I grew up and moved away from home I ate a lot of blue cheese and blue cheese salad dressing, but never encountered the Roquefort name. I wondered many times if Roquefort was different than blue cheese and what had happened to it. It was not until recently, while on my cheese kick, that I discovered the differences in blue cheeses and their names. That blue cheese, Blue Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Bleu d'Auvergne, etc. are all blue cheeses, with differences that are sometimes more in name than product, but also due to the type of milk that is used and how they are made and aged. Roquefort, out of the package, is wet and slimy and strong. 
More than any other blue cheese I've tried, it is moldy throughout 
and contains pockets of air filled with mold. 
These pockets of mold ooze the strong, overwhelming, 
tangy taste that just permeates Roquefort. 
For blue cheese, this is as good as it gets. The Cheese website says that Roquefort is the "King of cheeses."
Penicillium roqueforti, the mold that gives Roquefort its tangy taste, is found in the soil of the local caves. It was obtained by putting bread in the caves and leaving it for six to eight weeks until it was covered in mold (see the moldy bread at the Roquefort Papillon website). The bread was then dried and powdered. Today it is produced in a laboratory and either added to the curd or put into the cheese as an aerosol through holes poked into the rind. It is made from the milk of Lacaune, Manech and Basco-Bearnaise breeds of sheep and there are seven producers. The largest, the Roquefort Societe, which made the cheese we ate, has several of its own caves and is responsible for about 60% of all Roquefort production (visit the Societe website to see the caves). The other producers are Roquefort Papillon, Carles, Gabriel Coulet, Fromageries occitanes, Vernieres and Le Vieux Berger, each with one cave each. Wikipedia notes that not much of the Roquefort is exported to the U.S. In 2008, only 450 tons of the 3,700 tons exported came to the U.S., compared to Spain which took 1,000 tons. Then I found an article in the Washington Post titled "Bush War on Roquefort Raises a Stink in France" and dated January 29, 2009, which may give at least part of the explanation. In the final days of the Bush Administration, a 300% tariff was imposed on Roquefort cheese, "in effect closing off the U.S. market." This was in response to European Union bans on U.S. beef containing hormones. The article also notes that a 100% tariff was imposed on Roquefort in 1999 (I checked to see if this was a Bush dislike for blue cheese, similar to broccoli, but no, that was under Clinton). In order to use the name Roquefort, the following regulations must be complied with: the sheep milk must be raw and delivered at least 20 days after lambing; the sheep must be pastured in the area around Aveyron and at least 3/4s of the feed grain must come from that area; the addition of rennet must occur within 48 hours of milking; the Penicillium roqueforti used in production must be produced in France from the natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon; the salting process must use dry salt; and the process of maturation, cutting, packaging and refrigeration of the cheese must take place in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. 

1 comment:

  1. Somehow I just can't bring myself to really love blue cheese. This is an adult taste that I never really developed.