Roquefort

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Roquefort is a semisoft, blue-veined cheese made from sheep’s milk. Produced in the south of France, it is crafted from the raw milk of Lacaune sheep. The cheese ages in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Roquefort received the first ever Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation in 1925 and a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1996. Seven producers in the world make about 17,000 tons annually, with around 4,000 tons exported.

Historical Background

Historians debate whether Pliny the Elder referred to Roquefort in his writings, but the cheese was popular in France by 1411. That year, King Charles VI granted aging rights to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. In 1666, the Parlement de Toulouse upheld these rights, fining merchants selling imitation Roquefort. Roquefort remains a significant French cheese, second in volume only to Comté among French PDO cheeses.

Production Process

Roquefort cheese is made from the milk of Lacaune ewes, which are milked twice a day. The milk is tested for quality at the dairies of the seven producers. The milk is heated and rennet is added, taking two hours for curds to develop. Penicillium roqueforti mold is added to the curds, which are then placed in molds. Excess whey drains away as the cheeses are turned multiple times daily. The wheels are salted and pierced with needles to aerate the cheese, allowing the mold to grow.

Aging and Characteristics

The cheese ages in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon for at least fourteen days. These caves are naturally ventilated, maintaining constant temperature and humidity. After initial aging, the wheels are wrapped in foil to slow mold growth and then moved to chilled facilities to mature for a minimum of ninety days. Roquefort is distinguished by its INAO label and a logo of a red ewe.

Flavor and Serving Suggestions

Roquefort is moist and creamy with a tangy, sharp flavor. Milder versions are smooth and full-flavored, while stronger ones can be salty and sharp. Roquefort pairs excellently with sweet white wines, port, and Sauternes. It is commonly served on cheeseboards, with walnut bread, or crumbled on salads. Fruits and fresh vegetables also complement its flavors.

Regulatory and Quality Control

The PDO status of Roquefort is regulated by strict controls. The regulatory council ensures the cheese’s production quality through lab testing and sensory evaluations. All stages of production, including maturation and packaging, must occur in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

Distinctive Features

Roquefort’s unique flavor comes from the Penicillium roqueforti mold and the specific aging conditions in the Combalou caves. Its crumbly texture, blue veins, and sharp tang set it apart from other cheeses. Roquefort is often called the "King of Cheeses" or the "Cheese of Kings," reflecting its esteemed place in French culinary tradition.

Important Facts

Country of Origin France
Specific Origin Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, south of France
Certification PDO (1996), AOC (1925)
Milk Type Sheep’s milk
Milk Treatment Raw
Texture Moist, very creamy
Flavor Mild to strong
Colors Blue-veined
Forms Wheels, wrapped in impermeable foil
Age Minimum of 90 days, average of 5 months
Rennet Type Animal

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Other Recommended Pairings for Roquefort Cheese

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