Roquefort, the first Protection Designation of Origin
In 1925, Roquefort was the first cheese to receive the Designation of Origin label, making it the oldest Protected Designation cheeses in France.
Since 1996, the PDO has defined the manufacturing rules: Roquefort is therefore a blue-veined cheese made from full-fat unpasteurised milk, prepared and manufactured exclusively with Lacaune breed ewe’s milk. The development of the Penicillium Roqueforti is what gives this cheese its creaminess and that taste which is both unique and powerful. The milk is collected from Lacaune ewe breeders within a specific geographical zone known as the « Roquefort Area », containing parts of the Aveyron, Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère and Tarn départements in a 100-km radius around the village of Roquefort. The cheese dairies are also located within this zone.
Roquefort cheesemaking, quite a lot of savoir faire
During each milking season (roughly 7 months between December and June), the full-fat unpasteurised milk is collected from the sheep-farm, taken to the dairy, checked and then heated to a temperature of 28-34°C in stainless steel vats, before receiving all the ingredients required for its transformation: lactic starters, rennet and the Penicillium roqueforti.
The resulting curds are cut up, stirred, drained and put into moulds. These circular moulds (called « pains ») are drip-dried and regularly turned over before being salted for five days with coarse sea salt.
These pains are then pierced so as to create the airing that is required for the Penicillium Roqueforti to develop. Finally, they are taken to Roquefort where the ripening period can begin inside the caves. All the information regarding Roquefort cheese can be found on the Roquefort website.
The magic of the ripening process in the cave
Now ten days old, the cheese pain arrives in the caves that are naturally ventilated via fleurines (a series of geological faults in the rock) so as to ripen naturally, under the supervision of the master-ripeners.
Placed on its end on oak-wood shelves, the cheese can then start its transformation process thanks to the oxygen circulating inside it, resulting from the earlier piercing operation. This is when the Penicillium Roqueforti starts to develop.
At the end of this ripening period which must last at least 14 days, the ivory rind of the Roquefort takes on blue-green veins. The texture of the rind changes to become creamier, due to the action of the Penicillium Roqueforti. Its development needs to be slowed down by wrapping each pain in protective packaging. Dressed in this new wrap, the cheese can now continue its slow ripening process at low temperatures. A minimum of 3 months is required before the flavours start to blend and the Roquefort cheese is born.