It is one of the world’s best known blue cheeses.
Roquefort is often called the “King of cheeses,” though other cheeses share that title.
It is named after the small village of Roquefort which lies on a chalky mountain, called the Combalou, between the Auvergne and Languedoc in the Aveyron region of France.
The cheese is white, tangy, crumbly and slightly moist, with distinctive veins of blue mold.
A typical wheel of Roquefort weighs between 2.5 and 3 kg (5.5 and 6.6 lb), and is about 10 cm (4 in) thick.
Each kilogram of finished cheese requires about 4.5 litres (1.2 US gal) of milk to produce.
Roquefort is one of the oldest known cheeses.
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 mold had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort.
Though it is often claimed that Roquefort was praised by Pliny the Elder in AD 79, in fact, Pliny simply speaks of a cheese from Gaul, not mentioning its origin or even saying that it was blue – the story was promoted by the Société des Caves.
It was reportedly the favourite cheese of the emperor Charlemagne (748 – 814), and in France it is called le fromage des rois et des papes (“the cheese of kings and popes”).
On 4 June 1411, Charles VI granted a monopoly for the ripening of the cheese to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon as they had been doing for centuries.
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 mold that gives Roquefort its distinctive character (Penicillium roqueforti) is found in the soil of the caves.
Traditionally, the cheesemakers extracted it by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mold. The interior of the bread was then dried to produce a powder.
In modern times, the mold can be grown in a laboratory, which allows for greater consistency. The mold may either be added to the curd or introduced as an aerosol through holes poked in the rind.
Roquefort needs to ripen for around 5 months. It is best eaten April to October, but of course it is available all year round.
The regional cuisine in and around Aveyron includes many Roquefort-based recipes for main-course meat sauces, savory tarts and quiches, pies, and fillings.
Dry red wine is considered an ideal accompaniment.
Contrary to popular belief, the mold used for making the cheese –Penicillium roqueforti – does not produce penicillin.