If you love French food, there’s a strong chance you are also a French cheese lover. The French take cheese very seriously indeed, so much so that traditionally French dinners and lunches typically always include a course dedicated to cheese.

Roquefort is a well-loved blue cheese, made from sheep’s milk and is probably one of the best known cheeses in France, along with Brie and Camembert.

It’s named after the place the cheese comes from; to be allowed to carry the name Roquefort, it needs to have been aged in the naturally occurring caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. One of Roquefort’s most defining characteristics is the veins of blue mould that give the cheese its distinctive tangy flavour.  This mould is from the ground in the caves where the cheese is aged.

How is it made?

Roquefort is made from the milk of Lacaune sheep – a special breed of sheep originating from the Lacaune area in the south of France. The milk must be raw and unfiltered. After it is heated, it is then blended with penicillium roqueforti (the special mould found in the caves), culture and rennet. The curd is then placed into moulds and left to drain. After that, a brine of salt is added and the moulds are injected with steel needles, allowing the blue veins of mould to grow within the cheese.

Today the penicillium roqueforti is created in a lab but traditionally, bread used to be left in the caves for 6-8 weeks to grow mould and that mould would then be turned to powder and added to the cheese.

The cheese is then aged for 20 days, absorbing moisture and flavours from the air in the caves. Then, after 20 days, the Roquefort is wrapped up in foil which softens the texture of the cheese and gives it the delightfully creamy consistency. After 3 months of aging and ripening, the Roquefort is then ready for distribution.

Strict Rules of Roquefort Production

Roquefort producers must adhere to very strict guidelines in the production of this cheese and there are in fact only seven approved cheesemakers who can legally make Roquefort cheese. The regulations laid out by the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée – protected designation of origin) certification board are:

  • Roquefort must be made from raw, unpasteurised whole sheep’s milk and the sheep must be pastured on the land around the caves.
  • The milk must be delivered at least 20 days after lambing.
  • At least ¾ of the sheep food must come from the local area (grass, grain and wild herbs).
  • The rennet must be added within 48 hours of the milking.
  • The mould used in the cheese must be penicillium roqueforti, originating from the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
  • The entire production process from the aging down to the packaging must take place within the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
  • The salt used must be dry salt.

If Roquefort is listed as ingredient or component of any kind of food, dips or dressing anywhere in the world, it must be authentic Roquefort cheese in order for the name Roquefort to be used.

Roquefort’s History

The romantic story behind the origin of Roquefort cheese has never been confirmed, but it is thought that a local shepherd was having his lunch of rye bread and sheep’s cheese in the Combalou caves, to rest a while from the sun, when he became distracted by a girl for whom he then left his lunch to pursue.

When he returned to his food, he discovered it covered in a blue-green mould. He ate it anyway and found it delicious – and that is how the perfect combination of the cave air, rye bread mould and Lacaune ewe’s milk was discovered by accident and went on to become a treasured national product, exported all over the world.

It is believed that Roquefort was the emperor Charlemagne’s favourite cheese – but the first mention of it was in Carolingian texts in 1070. Then, in the 15th century, King Charles VI made the decision to grant exclusive production rights to the people of Roquefort – a decision which was the first ever of its kind in France. The caves then became a protected place so that the tradition of Roquefort aging and production could remain sacred.

How to Enjoy Roquefort

Roquefort’s creamy texture and tangy flavour makes this blue cheese a rich delicacy that can be enjoyed in a salad, on a burger, on its own with fruit, chutney or jam, on crackers, with bread and in a thick sauce, dressing, stuffing or dip. It’s soft and crumbly but very creamy all at once, making it a perfect ingredient.

This versatile cheese adds a depth of flavour to anything it comes with, whether it is a mild or strong variety. Its saltiness makes it the perfect accompaniment for meat, but it also works beautifully when paired with sweet things like honey, grapes, figs or apple.  It also makes for a great pairing with nuts, which is why we  have created a sumptuous warm Roquefort and walnut salad as a starter on our a la carte menu.

When it comes to wine pairing, unlike many other cheeses, Roquefort is in fact best paired with white wines, particularly Sauternes or even sweeter choices like Riesling or fortified wines like sherry or port. Roquefort also goes deliciously well with beer – especially nutty brown ales – as well as aged whiskies and bourbons.