Know Your Cheese: How Roquefort Came to Be

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France is known for many things, but it will be always be associated with great food and a huge variety of cheeses. You can practically eat a different type of cheese for each day of the month during your visit.

One of the popular types of cheese is Roquefort, which is one of the many varieties of Blue Cheese. Yes, there are more than just one blue cheese, so you better familiarise each one of them before you make that trip to your local gourmet cheese shop.

The good news is if you’ve been telling your shopkeeper to give you the most famous French blue cheese, then you’ve been served with Roquefort. What’s all the fuss?

Well, it’s a cheese made from the milk of a specific breed of sheep, the “Lacaune”. So you know it’s special right off the bat. No other breed will do. This led to sheep rearing in Aveyron, what with the demand dictating that milk should be sourced locally rather than imported into the region.

Looking back

Roquefort has been produced since the Middle Ages, and its popularity has sustained over the centuries as well. But did you know that the story behind this cheese rocks?

According to legend, some youth was eating bread and ewe’s milk curd when he saw a beautiful girl in the distance. He abandoned his meal in a cave and ran to meet her. A few months after, he returned to the cave to discover that the ewe’s milk curd he left on the rye bread has caused moulds to form.

The curds were practically marbled with deep green veins. It was disgusting and unappetising to look at, but hunger forced the youth to brave it out and take a bite of the mouldy cheese. To his surprise, the unappealing treat gave his palate a delectable hit. “Mais c’est bon!” Roquefort was born.

To date, Roquefort is still matured in caves owned by cheese-making companies. This allows the mould Penicillium roqueforti to work its magic and produce this particular variety of blue cheese.

Roquefort was first mentioned in the Carolingian period’s context in 1070. Its popularity extended to the regions in the Mediterranean – Marseille, Montpellier and Toulouse, at the end of the Middle Ages.

Charles VI placed the caves of Roquefort under protected status during the 15th century, giving the locals monopoly to the cheese’s production. In 1666, the Parliament of Toulouse under Charles VII voted for the sanction of anyone who produces fake versions of the Roquefort.

This particular cheese has several accolades to its name:
• King of Cheeses, a title given by the French philosopher Diderot to Roquefort during the Age of the Enlightenment.
• Appellation d’Origine (Label of Origin), a title granted in 1925 to guarantee a mark of quality. The title gained international level at the International Convention of Stresa in 1951.

With Roquefort, every bite could be something new. This is because there are more than 700 varieties of the mould Penicillium roqueforti, providing producers and cheese lovers plenty of possibilities.

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