This classic blue mould cheese is made from sheep’s milk and is easily recognized by its blue veins stretching across its moist and crumbly body. It is creamy and aromatic, complex and intense, with sharp and tangy nuances. Roquefort is often called the “King of cheeses, though other cheeses share that title.
Partner Roquefort with nut or raisin bread, pasta, salads, walnuts, figs and apple slices and, as tradition dictates, serve it accompanied by a sweet white dessert wine. The salty profile of Roquefort also provides the perfect accompaniment to meat.
While the unique characteristics of Roquefort are largely imparted from ageing in caves near Toulouse in the southern part of France, the milk of the Lacaune sheep also plays a large role in the outcome of flavours. Grazing on pastures in Occitanie, the sheep are known to produce the milk of sturdy character, rounded flavours and a high yield.
The cheese is white, tangy, crumbly and slightly moist, with distinctive veins of blue mould. It has a characteristic fragrance and flavour with a notable taste of butyric acid; the blue veins provide a sharp tang. It has no rind; the exterior is edible and slightly salty. A typical wheel of Roquefort weighs between 2.5 and 3 kg and is about 10 cm thick. Each kilogram of finished cheese requires about 4.5 litres (1.2 US gal) of milk to produce. Though similar cheeses are produced elsewhere, EU law dictates that only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort, as it is a recognised geographical indication, or has a protected designation of origin.
Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a youth, eating his lunch of bread and ewes’ milk cheese, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, the mould (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort.
In 1925, the cheese was the recipient of France’s first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée when regulations controlling its production and naming were first defined. In 1961, in a landmark ruling that removed imitation, the Tribunal de Grande Instance at Millau decreed that, although the method for the manufacture of the cheese could be followed across the south of France, only those cheeses whose ripening occurred in the natural caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon were permitted to bear the name Roquefort.
The mould that gives Roquefort its distinctive character (Penicillium roqueforti) is found in the soil of the local caves. Traditionally, the cheesemakers extracted it by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mould. The interior of the bread was then dried to produce a powder. In modern times, the mould can be grown in a laboratory, which allows for greater consistency. The mould may either be added to the curd or introduced as an aerosol through holes poked in the rind.
Roquefort is made entirely from the milk of the Lacaune breed of sheep. Prior to the AOC regulations of 1925, a small amount of cow’s or goat’s milk was sometimes added. Around 4.5 L (0.99 imp gal; 1.2 US gal) of milk is required to make one kilogram of Roquefort.