This next cheese cannot be matched. It’s one of the oldest, one of the most iconic cheeses there is. Not to mention, it’s a personal favorite.
Legend goes that once upon a time in France, a young, strapping sheepherder was resting in a cave, lunching on bread and ewe’s milk curds when something overtook him. Through the opening of the cave, he saw a beautiful maiden walk by. It was love at first sight. He promptly left to go pursue the woman of his dreams, leaving behind the rest of his meal. Months passed before he returned to his lunch in the cave. When he did finally arrive back at the place he had left it, he saw no bread but found his curds, covered in mold. They tasted delicious and as the story goes, Roquefort was born.
Since said fateful affinage, Roquefort has gone on to achieve amazing things: it was King Charlemagne’s favorite cheese; in 1925, it became the first ever name-protected cheese; and just recently, scientists have stated that it can help guard against cardiovascular disease.
How it’s made:
The production of roquefort is pretty exclusive; there are only a total of seven producers on the planet! The cheesemaking process starts out the same as for any other cheese: put the milk in a vat, add a coagulant, stir and cut as the milk separates into curds and whey. Simple, right? It’s at the aging stage where things start to get interesting. A very special mold is sprinkled (as it is very potent) over the curds: Penicilliun Roqueforti, derived from stale bread. An affineur then pokes holes into the cheese to allow for air circulation. As months go by, the affineur continuously checks on the Roquefort using a “trier,” a long, narrow spoon that reaches all the way to the center of the cheese. To qualify as Roquefort and don the red “d’origine et de qualité” stamp, the aging process must take place in the caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon where the airflow is just right.
Procuring and Tasting:
My Roquefort cost me $19.99/lb. I bought it at Whole Foods but you can usually find it at lots of other grocery stores as it is such a cheese board staple.
Through trial and error, I realized I prefer not to eat Roquefort at room temperature. The cheese is creamy enough cold, any warmer and it turns slightly whipped. Plus in this case, the coolness did not compromise the full taste of the cheese.
Biting into a piece of Roquefort feels like experiencing a shockwave through your mouth. It’s piquant, salty and most prominently, peppery. And that’s just the flavor. Roquefort has a lovely combination of creaminess and graininess.
Cooking with Roquefort:
I gave Bon Appétit’s “Greatest Recipe of All Time” a shot for my cooking portion of this post: Roquefort crackers. They were great – there was so much Roquefort used in the making of them that the signature punch of the cheese was not lost at all. Next time, I would try pairing them with something smooth and cool, like labneh, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. I brought them to work and they were a hit…among Roquefort fanatics. Those not so crazy about this particular blue were not as enthralled.
Next, I paired Roquefort with a Cabernet Franc. To me, it was a lot of strong flavor going on: the peppery, salty taste of the cheese and the acidic, tannin heavy, leathery taste of the wine intensified one another. Next time, I would try it with a more mellow red or maybe a dry white.
And finally, I had myself a little dessert: Roquefort with chocolate. Word to the wise: chocolate goes with every and all cheeses, Roquefort included.