Last summer, when we were staying in Languedoc-Roussillon, we ventured a little further afield in our day trips a couple of times. We visited the Camargue and its salt marshes one day and another day we headed to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron department. Being four big cheese fans, we decided we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to check out where one of France’s most famous blue cheeses comes from. The legend goes that a shepherd was getting ready to eat his lunch of bread and cheese in a cave in the Roquefort region when he was distracted by a pretty girl. He abandoned his lunch in pursuit of the girl and only returned to the same spot a few months later. On returning there he found the cheese coated in a blue-ish mold but was so hungry that he ate it anyway. Et voila – the first Roquefort as we know it today!
Roquefort is a sheep’s milk cheese that is aged in the Combalou caves in the region and only cheese that has aged here can call itself Roquefort, according to European laws. The blue mold that Roquefort is famous for is Penicillium roqueforti and can be found in the soil of these caves. Traditionally this was made by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mold, then the inside of the bread was dried to make a powder. These days, the mold is laboratory-produced and can be either added to the curd or introduced through holes poked in the rind of the cheese.
In 1925 Roquefort cheese was granted the title of “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée –AOC”, (Controlled Designation of Origin) and in 1961, the Tribunal de Grande Instance at Millau (Aveyron) declared that though this cheese could be made in many regions of southern France, it could only be classified as true Roquefort if it was ripened in the Combalou caves in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. The French, they take their cheese very seriously!
There are seven Roquefort cheese producers, the largest by far being Roquefort Société (they account for around 60% of all Roquefort cheese production). You can visit Société and several other Roquefort cheese producers in the village – make sure to bring a sweater because it gets really cold in the caves!
As well as learning all about the actual cheese production, our trip to the Caves Société included a lovely retrospective of cheesy publicity through the years…
The village itself is tiny but never fear there are a few places to eat once you’ve checked out the caves. And yes, most items on the menus feature Roquefort. Bien sûr!
If you’re interested (and if you need to after copious cheese tastings), you might like to check out some of the hikes in the region.
For information about visiting the caves, head to Roquefort.fr Un fromage, Un village.
Let’s ALL get kids excited about food on May 16th 2014 – Food Revolution Day! Check out all the details on how you can participate here.
Canadians – win a Nespresso VertuoLine coffee machine. Closes May 10th 6pm EST. Details here.