There’s a state of cheese crisis in my home. My fridge died. It’s been failing for the last couple of days, but it gave up entirely last night-with 12 cheeses waiting for review tucked away in the cheese drawer. Calamity! I have called fridge repair, and have gone “old school” in the meantime- turning the fridge into a giant cooler by placing large bags of ice around my precious cheese. I mention this to explain my next cheese choice-Roquefort. It’s out of sequence, but it did seem to be suffering a little in the heat of the fridge. Not that a blue cheese can really spoil- can it? I guess we shall see.
The history of a cheese is almost as important to me as the taste. Roquefort not only has a legendary flavour, but its own legend of origin. A young shepherd was eating his lunch of bread and sheep cheese in a cave when a lovely young girl wandered by in the distance. He abandoned his lunch in the cave to follow her. The shepherd returned several months later (let’s hope it was good for both of them) and found that his cheese had been transformed by the combination of natural mold, bread and time. Despite this he decided to eat it anyway. This is scientific proof that love makes you crazy.
Regardless of its actual origin, a Roquefort-like cheese is mentioned in literature as far back as AD 79 by Pliny the elder. King Charles VI granted a cheese monopoly in 1411 to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon for ripening the cheese in this manner. Archaeological evidence exists of this kind of cheese-making in this area for millennia. It is truly an ancient cheese.
Roquefort is the second most popular cheese in France after Comte. However, the French keep most of it for themselves-this cheese is not exported in large amounts. Roquefort is an AOC designated cheese (protected name, protected area,) one of the first to receive the designation in 1925. The rules of designation state that all Roquefort is made from the raw milk of the Lacaune sheep. It is produced in southern France in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon only.
The same mold responsible for my favourite Stilton, is working its gnarly magic here. This is the eponymous Penicillium roqueforti-which is found naturally occurring in the local caves. What a lucky coincidence! In the olden days cheese-makers left chunks of bread in the caves for a couple of months to seed and encourage the bacteria-these days they do it in a lab. Much less romantic, but much more dependable. Roquefort is cave-aged in natural limestone Combalou caves. The largest producer of Roquefort-including my sample today-is the Societe des Caves. Which is potentially the best name ever. Visitors are welcome to tour the caves, check it out at URL: http://www.roquefort-societe.com.
My little slice of Roquefort Societe didn’t really need to warm up much, after the great fridge melt down of 2012. It’s quite a white cheese shot through with green-blue veins. You can see lines where the stainless steel needles pierced the cheese to allow the penicillium to enter-these show up as green lines in the cheese. It’s quite pungent, just a little vomity-but in a really toothsome sort of way. There is no rind, it is wrapped in foil. It looks like cream cheese that’s gone off.
Wow, it’s really salty and raunchy, that’s a weird combination. It honestly tastes like salty sick to me. I’m trying to be open-minded, and I do like a blue cheese, but I’m having a hard time with this one. It’s not mellowing out, it’s not subtle, it’s like a punch in the face. It’s making me feel sick, That being said, the texture is amazingly creamy-it’s like a triple cream brie-just luxuriously melting all over my mouth. Alas, it’s melting a really wretched flavour all over my mouth. I think it needs something sweet to go with it, fruit or wine, sugar, gum-anything. I can’t wrap my mind or tongue around it. Well, it’s been around for 2000 years, so obviously it’s not going anywhere, but it’s not going anywhere near me again either.