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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Roquefort......

 The king of cheeses...
Le roi des fromages     -    Die Könige unter...... die Käse....
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Hailing from a tiny corner, strictly limited - Geographically and in quality - this "modest" little cheese has everything you can imagine.
Taste, tradition and - of course, like all good things - it is suffering on all sides.
Supertaxed in the USA, as "luxury" - banned for a while from being exported/imported in European lands, USA and Switzerland, on the basis that it is a "Fromage cru" (any cheese made from raw, untreated milk - of any animal) and therefore susceptible to poison people (!) it has had many barriers to overcome. This, in itself, shows proof of its' quality.
Even in the USA - luxury taxed as opposed to the other things the Americans call "Cheese" - it still sells, even if it is sold in smaller quantity.  There are always people, everywhere, who want the best, and who can pay for it.
Here in France, it is still one of the favourites, not with younger people - it is an "acquired" taste, but its usefulness in many dishes, in particular simple omelettes filled with Roquefort, give an idea of the variety of French Cuisine, affordable for everyone - as it should be in a country where my ancestors had their heads sliced off....!
I'm going to give you a couple of "legends" and traditions, but first of all - What is it, exactly...?
Well - it is a cheese made from  "ewes" milk.
What - you didn't know that female sheep give usable milk? Well now you do! Obviously much smaller quantities than cows milk, this is the start  of the reasons for higher prices.
It is made, naturally, under the extremely strict laws regarding "AOC" products (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), which means roughly "Zone of Origin Controlled".
Only milk from ewes born and raised in the small area comprising Larzac, the Aveyron, in France  are eligible to be used, and this is STRICTLY adhered to. The local producers guard jealously their secrets and their product. It is the only product, basically, that this area of France has, Internationally reputed............  and they have no intention of losing the reputation - as the Region of Camembert already has.
Larzac itself is perched high on a plateau, surrounded by extinct volcanoes, a "moon landscape" and until recently used mainly by the military for troop manoeuvres, now a part of the "obligatory" Tourists Tour de France, for both its countryside and its cheese!
I had the pleasure to be permanently stationed there as a Representative of the British Army from 1964 to 1967, and during that time, I had the great honour of being "befriended" by local people, most of whom earned their living   with some connection to the cheese, so I spent quite some considerable time with them in their homes and at their places of work.
In fact - the only reason that I left the area was because the then "boss" of France, Gen de Gaulle, changed the staus of France within the NATO organization, from full member to limited "non-military" status - so we had to leave!
You see - Roquefort has always had problems  with the politicians of this world...those who had good taste, and those who didn't!
Usable in all forms imaginable, here are a few:

 some little "choux" pastries...stuffed with Roquefort cheese....Simply in a green salad...used as "stuffing for all sorts of things...... the inevitable and not to be avoided "quiche" ....which I shall name
"Quiche Lozerian" or "Quiche Larzacienne" or something equally exotic!
Because....the history and legend of Roquefort cheese is quite "exotic".
It is said that the origin dates back over centuries, when a local shepherd, stuck up on the plateau all by himself, received daily visits from his "patron's" wife, who brought his daily meal if bread, cheese and wine with her.....Being French, this daily close contact could only lead to one thing...........amour, amore, liebe, love.....!
Of course, this often meant that the supplies were not consumed immediately, having other things "on his hands" or "on his plate" the shepherd often hid his foodstuffs in caves or rock fissures, to be consumed later - after consommation....! By the nature of "love triangles" the third angle, namely the husband, found out about these "goings on" and nipped them in the bud - or elsewhere, byforbidding his wife to take any more food to our poor Shepherd! This wouldn't work nowadays - the wife would simply sue for divorce and high alimony, but back in the good old days, she had to accept it!
Our shepherd waited and waited with rising impatience and other things.
Finally he recalled having hidden a day's supply some time before, and with hunger gnawing,.. he went off to find his lunch!
What he found was bread hard and mouldy and the cheese as well. Starving, he tried the cheese and found it remarkably good, even the "mouldy" bits.
In fact - later studies showed that the caves of Roquefort had the humidity exact to produce the fungus family "Penicillin" - the green bits in the cheese, and Roquefort cheese was born!
It's a nice little legend!
Whilst in Roquefort I had the honour and pleasure of being asked once if I could replace the English and German tourist guide for the tour of the "Society" caves, who had fallen ill - Of course I could - and did! Afterwards, my reward was a whole Roquefort cheese and a set of slides showing the tour! I also got the few francs some of the Tourists slipped into my hand...! 
I'll be coming back to the subject another time to develope "Legends & Anecdotes" of Roquefort....
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iwmpop (mr le marquis)           -          Vauvert, France         -        Octobre 2010

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******* iwmpop (mr le marquis)- Vauvert, France - Janvier 2011