Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Roquefort AOP comes from the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the department of Aveyron in the Midi-Pyrénées. The cheese is blue-veined, semi-soft, 52% fat, sheep’s milk cheese, made with unpasteurized milk; it has a medium to strong flavor and has no rind. It is slightly pungent, crumbly and somewhat moist. The cheese is aged for five months before it may be sold in the natural damp, aired caves that are close to the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
Roquefort is one of France’s oldest known cheeses. While it was the first cheese in France to receive an AOC grading in 1925, it was probably already appreciated by the Romans when they occupied France 121 BCE. Roquefort is not special because it is a sheep’s cheese; however, it is unique as it is the first blue-veined cheese recorded inside or outside France.
When discussing blue cheeses Roquefort's name will always come up and I read an article recently where Roquefort was compared to English Stilton. However, Roquefort and Stilton are not the same at all! Their tastes and texture are very different. Even more to the point, Stilton is a cow’s milk cheese and Roquefort is a sheep's milk cheese. Both are excellent blue veined cheeses and much appreciated on their own or with a glass of Port and a few grapes but there the similarity ends.
The village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may have given its name to the cheese but today since there are less than 700 inhabitants in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon you may be sure that most of the farmers come from outside the town. The cheese is ripened in the local limestone caverns called Causses; these caverns are part of the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses. You may visit the park, with its mineral and hot springs and see the limestone caverns. For a few Euros you may try the cheese and or buy one. If you speak French you may still have some difficulty listening in on the local’s private conversations that is because many of them, amongst themselves, speak the local Occitan dialect, the traditional language of the area.
The Grands Causses Regional Natural Park has an English language website.
When in the area you will also find other local blue-veined sheep’s cheeses on sale. They are not made in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and have no AOP on their label; however. some are very good, and they are also much less expensive! Do not forget that within theMidi-Pyrénées there are many excellent cheeses and three more that hold the AOP grade. These are the cow’s milk Bleu des Causses. the cow’s milk Laquiole, and the goat’s milk Rocamadour.
If you are looking for a local wine to accompany your Roquefort cheese, consider the Entraygues-Le-Fel AOP and Estaing AOP these are whites, roses, and reds that were probably originally planted in Roman times.
Entraygues Le Fel AOP
Also, try the red and rose Marcillac AOP wines. This is a wine brought to the Mediaeval village of Conque 125 km (78 miles) away from Roquefort by the monks who also saw their abbey become a major stop on the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage on the way to Spain.