Roquefort Cheese: Making Mold a Culinary Mainstay

Eat from cave to table with this centuries-old treasure that’s unique to a small French village. Learn the history behind this potent cheese.

| Fall 2019

Photo from Delphine Atche

Browse the cheese aisle of the grocery store today, and your eyes might be drawn to the blue-veined slices. Roquefort, the original blue cheese, is famous for its dappled coloring and distinctive smell, but not everyone is willing to give its notoriously salty slices a taste. Are Roquefort’s eye-catching accent colors merely accessory, and are the rumors true that this popular cheese is made from penicillin?

There’s a surprising history to Roquefort, and we’ll unpack it here. Despite humble origins, the story of Roquefort cheese gives testimony to a culinary region proud of what makes it unique and willing to protect the authenticity of its creations for centuries on end.

The King of France

Roquefort is one of the world’s most recognizable cheeses, and an emblem of French culinary artistry, thanks to its mottled blue streaks, salty taste, and moist texture. This soft, crumbly, and rindless cheese delivers a sharp tang with every mouthful that some people find overwhelming.

Roquefort is often referred to as the “king of cheese,” and it’s considered one of the great blue cheeses of the world. For a cheese to be a true Roquefort, it must be made from the milk of the Lacaune sheep, a breed that originated in the same region as Roquefort and that traditionally grazes on the grasses growing above the caves where the cheese ages. Lacaune milk has complex flavors that support the cheese, but what defines Roquefort is the cave-dwelling bacteria used to cultivate the mold that creates its distinctive blue streaks.

An Old, Moldy Cheese

The blend of ingredients and natural fermentation conditions necessary for Roquefort cheese took centuries to take the shape we recognize today. The first possible historical reference for this pungent dairy product comes from Pliny the Elder in 79 A.D. In a manuscript praising the French for a salty blue cheese, he wrote that he considered it “preferable to any other” despite later describing it as having a pungent taste that he peculiarly compared to medicine.



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