Roquefort cheese: Introduction.
Roquefort cheese is the most consumed cheese in France after Comté, it is also one of the most renowned of the blue cheeses along with Gorgonzola and Stilton. Roquefort cheese melts fully under the palate and leaves a light salty taste and a very pleasant taste of mould. It's character is very typical of that of a great French cheese.
The ripening of Roquefort cheese lasts for a duration of at least 3 months in the natural, fresh, humid cellars of the mountain of "Cambalou." The cracks on the rocks serve as natural ventilation. Roquefort cheese is formed in a cylindrical shape of 20cm diametre and 9cm long. It weighs between 2.5 and 2.9kg. The penicillium roqueforti, the famous mould, can only be found in the caves of Roquefort. The mould lives in the ground and contains the property which ferments the cheese.
In hand-made production, rye bread and wheat are stored, and after 6 weeks, the mould is collected and pricked in to the the Roquefort cheese. This is done with the use of a needle. After 4 weeks, the cheeses are enveloped in aluminum foil to avoid parasites.
Exterior appearance of Roquefort cheese: clean rind
Interior appearance of Roquefort cheese: evenly veined
Feel of Roquefort cheese: firm without hardness
Taste of Roquefort cheese: pronounced ovine flavour
History of Roquefort cheese
Roquefort cheese is probably the cheese with the richest history. In the 9th book of his Natural History series, already Pliny the Elder cites the cheese as "cheese of paus des Gabales," at the same time he cites another cheese of Gévaudan. In his account, he wrote that the monk of Saint-Gall, who was the secretary to Charlemagne towards the end of his life, recounted an anecdote according to which, during the return home from the campaign he had led against the Saracens, the emperor stopped at the monastery of Vabres, where he was served a cheese of which he removed the green with the end of his knife, when the abbot told him " Sire, you are removing the best part." It can only have been Roquefort cheese that he was eating.
In the year 1070, a donation at the monastery of Conques mentions among the revenues, two cheeses supplied from each of the cellars of Roquefort. However, it is not until 1411 that Charles VI acknowledges to the inhabitants of Roquefort the monopoly of the maturing process " like is was practiced from a time immemorial in the caves of this village." Later, many royal charters confirm this monopoly and give to the inhabitants many priviliges of jurisdiction, franchises and rights to asylum. The rulings of the court of the parliament of Toulouse protects the cheese against imitations and confirms the rights accorded for the protection of "this strong rock" where "maturing" of the cheeses takes place.
The term of origin, defined by the law of July 1925, is protected by the international framework as outlined by the Stresa convention, signed the 1st June 1951. The countries who have not signed nevertheless must respect the term "Roquefort cheese" the mark having been registered in the national institutes of these countries. It is not the place that the production takes place that is protected by the term of origin, but the place of maturing. For centuries, the production of ewe's milk destined for the fabrication of Roquefort was limited to the limestone plateaux around the village, a territory where, to cite a charter from the 15th century " neither grows vines nor wheat." The milk is therefore collected from the other regions of Rouergue (Basin of Camarès, mountains of Lacaune, causse Comtal, Lévezou) and to those adjacent, the Lozère, the Gard, Tarn and Aude.
Finally it iwas in the 1950s that the departments of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Corsica came to join the "range" of regions from which the milk is collected. As already specified by a ruling of the parliament of Languadoc in 1666, the pasture should be so, that it is the same food as in the Causses. Dairy production of Roquefort reaches its maximum in April and May, each ewe giving an average of 100 to 150 litres of milk by "campaign," and around 4.5litres of milk is needed to obtain 1kg of Roquefort. When made by a cheese-maker, it is obligatory for the cheese to be matured at the "rock of Combalou," a zone in which the limits are fixed by a decision of the justice in the application of the law of the term of origin .
In this region of Karstic relief, the limestone plateaux are in effect ripped apart by a terrain of cavities and galleries of which the inhabitants of Roquefort have made good use of by creating the caves for maturing the cheese. Dispersed into several stacked levels (of which the number varies from 4 to 11) which are ventillated by naturally formed chimneys which can be up to 100m long (the fleurines), this makes an immense pool producing cold air and a chemical-biological filter. In effect a particular cycle of condensation and evaporation is maintained all year round at a constant temperature of 7 to 8 °C. As for the fine mist which saturates the air, this is the environment where the Penicillium roqeuforti is developed naturally, this is the fungus from which Roquefort gets its beautiful blue veins.