Roquefort Cheese: A Culinary and Scientific Journey from Creation to Dinner Plate
As one of the oldest known cheeses in the world, the Roquefort cheese has been enjoyed and debated for centuries in the culinary world. With a distinct salty and earthy flavor that sets this cheese apart, we thought it only right to take a deeper look at the process behind the creation of Roquefort cheese and how it arrives onto our dinner plates.
Roquefort cheese is one of the most highly regulated cheeses in the world, so to begin discussing this popular cheese, let’s start with the creation process. The cheese is made from sheep's milk from the robust Lacaune breed, found throughout the Auvergne region of France. After being collected in local farms, the warm sheep’s milk is strained—allowing for the pasteurization process to occur—and then left to settle. The whey and cream are then extracted and the resulting curds are piled, lightly salted, and left to age in underground caves.
It is the caves—traditionally Dolomite and limestone caves—that the cheese makers of Roquefort cheese have relied on for centuries that give the cheese its distinct flavor, aroma, and appearance. Historically, the Roquefort caves have remained a closely guarded secret, as the cheese makers rely on the unique environment of the cave to cultivate the fungus that gives Roquefort its signature tangy and earthy flavor. This fungus (Penicillium roqueforti) requires a particular temperature, humidity, and air circulation to properly grow, and because of the unique geology of the Auvergne region of France, the caves within this region are the perfect home for the fungus. Once the cheese has been aged in the caves, the pasteurized sheep's milk is then aged at an even temperature of 14°C-15°C, weighing between 8-9kg and ranging in age between 3-6 months.
After the cheese has aged to perfection in the caves, it is removed and sent to a nearby processor to be placed into its traditionally square, Pihilip mold. The molds help to keep the cheese unified and preserve its shape. The molds are then placed into saltwater baths for 12 hours, which assists in draining excess water and stops the cheese’s fermentation process. The saltwater baths give the Roquefort cheese a distinct taste and texture that separates it from other cheeses, with the main salt employed being sodium chloride.
Upon completion of the saltwater bath, the Roquefort cheese is wrapped in protective cloth that keeps moisture inside the cheese, then stored at controlled temperatures of -1°C to 0°C for a further 2-4 weeks. During this time the cheese matures and develops the unique flavor characteristics of Roquefort cheese. This process is important Ð as the introduction of oxygen bacteria or humidity can create significant changes in the cheese’s taste and texture. It adopted a specific label “Roquefort” as early as 1921 when legislation defined the territory of production: the comarcas of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and its adjacent territories in the plateau of Larzac.
Once the maturing process is complete, the cheese is then placed in metal areas with raw air for a “drying” process, which helps to develop the cheese’s rind. Drying the rind ensures that the cheese received the proper level of humidity and that its fatty components are coated and hardened properly. This process also helps to protect the cheese from other external agents.
Once the Roquefort cheese is adequately dried, it is ready to be shipped and consumed! Traditional packaging often involve wax paper and its trademark green box, which helps protect and maintain the cheese’s flavor, aroma, and appearance. It is these measures that make Roquefort one of the most sought after cheeses in the world, as consumers know they can depend on a consistent product.
Now that we have looked at how the Roquefort cheese is carefully created and packaged, it’s time to consider how the cheese finds its way to your dinner plate. As any true cheese connoisseur knows, there are many ways Roquefort can be enjoyed, from enjoying a dollop of it on top of a salad or trying it as a delightful finish for a steak meal.
Cheese lovers are sometimes tempted to grab a wheel of Roquefort cheese from the store shelves, but before reaching for that supermarket version, we suggest spending time researching the authentic and carefully crafted Roquefort cheese made in France and served at esteemed restaurants. The flavor of such exemplary Roquefort cheese is unparalleled, as it has had lengthy cave-aging, made with traditional methods, and fuller flavor.
You may find a wide range of Roquefort cheese styles, including the classic and well-aged “Vieux Roquefort”, a milder and softer approach called “Carre de Laitue”, and “Vernier”, created using ewe's milk and white wine. There are also flavored versions featuring pepper, cognac, and even garlic, so take some time to find the right balance of flavor depending on the dish.
When it comes to Roquefort cheese, presentation is key as this cheese might overtake all other flavors featured in a dish. Serving Roquefort cheese on the side of an entrée allows the consumer to enjoy it completely, from the smell to the taste, so it doesn’t inadvertently overpower the other flavors of the meal. It is best to incorporate some portion - never too much - of this cheese with your meal, not instead of it. So, while slathering it onto crackers is tempting, using Roquefort as a garnish atop a nice slice of steak is a sophisticated and flavorful way to enjoy this distinctive cheese.
Once you’ve finally enjoyed the intense flavor of Roquefort cheese, take some time to appreciate the science and tradition that gave it life. Roquefort cheese is a powerhouse, from its ancient origins up until now, and its unique scientific process ensures its deliciousness every time.