Ask an Expert: Roquefort Blue Cheese
Ask an Expert
In our inaugural "Ask an Expert" series, Jaelea Holt of acclaimed wine bar, Tria Cafe in Philadelphia, walks us through the history and flavor profile of the world-famous Roquefort, and it's noble companion, Sauternes.
Blue mold. It's something most people tend to avoid. Convincing my bar guests that cultivated strains of Penicillium roqueforti, and Penicillium gloucom are some of the best hidden gems in the cheese world can sometimes be an upward battle. There aren't many people that would be as delighted as me to see fuzzy blue mold growing inside their creamy white cheese. And while not everyone can go at it with a spoon (yes, I do this), many people can find that blue cheeses are quite lovely when you pair them with something that brings out their best qualities.
There are many stories as to how Roquefort was discovered. My personal favorite is the one of the little boy who was enjoying a piece of cheese outside a cave. As an attractive girl walked by, the boy became distracted, and left his cheese in the cave in order to pursue this love interest. Missing his cheese, the boy returned to the cave a few days later to fetch it, and it was covered in a soft blue mold. Alas, Roquefort! (no note on how the relationship worked out, though)
Discovered around 1411, and made with raw sheep's milk, the cheese is inoculated with the fungus penicillium roqueforti, which provides its signature blue marks. In 1925, France awarded Roquefort AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée ) status, the first of its kind for any cheese. The AOC is France's governing body that regulates certain agricultural products depending upon terroir. During the 1950s and 1960s, American producers tried smuggling spores from the ageing caves in France to try and replicate the cheese back home with little success. Currently, Roquefort can be found throughout the United States although at a premium due to a 100% import tax which effectively doubles the price!
Roquefort is a spicy, horseradish-y, salt bomb. It has a smooth, creamy texture, dotted with gritty blue mold, and finishes off with an almost candied orange peel note. It burns your nose like wasabi, whilst coating the inside of your mouth with a peppery film. It is not for the faint of heart.
Roquefort and Sauternes; a paring as perfect as Michael Scott and Holly Flax. Sauternes is a delectable dessert wine made in Bordeaux, France from grapes affected by the fungus botrytis cinerea or "noble rot", which creates partially raisined grapes with increased sugar levels resulting in sweeter wines. Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes are blended together to create a rich, honeyed wine with the ability to age for decades. It's what I wanted Meade to taste like when I was 19, on my friend's living room floor. Buttery golden, boozy, and lusciously sweet, this is the perfect accompaniment to soften the intense, spicy notes of the Roquefort.
Blue cheeses can be intimidating to the general population, I know. Even if you think you hate all blue cheese, this is a pairing I cannot encourage you enough to try. Like most things in life, Roquefort benefits from a great partner to help soften its rough edges while bringing out its full potential.