Getting to know cheese requires at least four of the five senses: looking, touching, smelling and tasting. If you’re a cheese maker or affineur, then you would also bring in hearing to evaluate a full wheel of cheese by knocking on it. Simply put, it takes a lot more than throwing a cube of cheese in your mouth to appreciate it. If you want to know it more intimately, then you study and evaluate it. Its color, aroma from paste to rind, texture on your fingers and your tongue. So much of this will help you go beyond having a passive appreciation of cheese.
In the movie, “How to Cook Your Life,” Edward Espe Brown (author of the famed Tassajara Bread Book) is at the sink cleaning rice. He says something simple, “When you wash the rice, wash the rice; when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots; when you stir the soup, stir the soup.” Which is to say, be in the moment of the task at hand. When you taste cheese, close your eyes and focus on every sensation that’s going on. Take multiple bites of the same cheese until you feel you have a good sense of it. Pay attention because your first bite and your fourth bite will not taste the same. Your tongue and nose will pick up different notes as it moves around on your palate and opens up.
As I take study breaks from preparing for the Certified Cheese Professional exam, I’m reintroducing myself to some of the greats of the cheese world that I have, I will admit, taken for granted and pushed aside for some newer, flashier wheels. I’m taking the time to get to know them again, like old friends, and first up is Roquefort.
Roquefort has a written history dating back to at least 79 AD, though it is said that Ceaser’s centurians encountered it in the 1st century BC. It was also the first French cheese to be ‘protected’ by the French Parliment in the 15th century, then the modern AOC (Appelation d’origine Controlee, which has now been replaced by the European AOP) in 1925. The secret to Roquefort is the caves that dot Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, which are now owned by only seven cheesemaking companies in France.
Under the requirements for AOC, Roquefort must be:
- All milk used must be delivered at least 20 days after lambing has taken place.
- The sheep must be on pasture, whenever possible, in an area including most of Aveyron and parts of neighboring départements. At least 3/4 of any grain or fodder fed must come from the area.
- The milk must be whole, raw (not heated above 34 °C; 93.2 °F), and unfiltered except to remove macroscopic particles.
- The addition of rennet must occur within 48 hours of milking.
- The Penicillium Roqueforti used in the production must be produced in France from the natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon
- The salting process must be performed using dry salt.
- The whole process of maturation, cutting, packaging and refrigeration of the cheese must take place in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
Milk: Raw Sheep
Rind: None, wrapped in foil
Paste: Smooth, slightly creamy paste; off white in color, deeply pocketed with evergreen/blue veining
Paste: Woodsy, mushroomy, fruity
Mouthfeel: Dense, like Mascarpone. Slightly granular texture with the molding.
Flavor: Upfront spiciness; slight sweetness, warming profile, like cinnamon or chile. Faint notes of liquorice or tarragon.