The Roquefort Files
Roquefort, a bleu-veined ewe’s milk cheese from the French town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, is widely known as one of the kings of cheese. Of the 500-plus cheeses made in France, this blue bully is certainly one of the most recognizable to the connoisseur and the layman alike. Unfortunately, as with the other kings of cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano, Brie de Meaux and Stilton), Roquefort has been commodified and redefined as tepid sour crumbles that lay atop crappy salads. Like the other big three, it has become a supermarket cheese, which obscures its epic history and goddamn transcendental flavor.
Like many French cheeses, Roquefort’s origin is tied to a quaint little story involving a shepherd and a lady. The young shepherd, so the story goes, settled down at the mouth of a cave to eat his lunch of rye bread, ewe’s milk cheese and, presumably, booze of some kind. Between bites he spied a beautiful girl off in the fields. Substituting one desire for another, he ran after her, leaving his food to the elements. The elements somehow combined the mold that grew on the bread with the fresh sheep’s milk cheese and, three months later, after botching his new relationship, the shepherd returned to find the first piece of Roquefort.
True to form, the rot that impregnates the multitudinal crevasses of this bright white cheese should be grown on loaves of rye bread. The mold is shepherded by a type of French artisan called an Affineuse, which means her calling in life is aging cheeses. She selects the cream of the dairy crop at an early stage, then babysits the cheese to mature perfection. But most commercial producers use lab-cultured Penicillium roqueforti to make their wheels blue.
A great cheese, like a great wine or beer, occupies your mouth and mind for a significant amount of time. A good Roquefort should take 30 seconds to a minute to go through the motions in your mouth—from sweet and supple to smoky to sour, with a long, salted butter finish. Unlike most other bleus in production all over the world, Roquefort’s power lies in its perfect balance between strength and subtlety.
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