Blue has no dimensions; it is beyond dimensions.

(Yves Klein)

If you admire French food, there is a high chance you are also a French cheese lover. It is hard to imagine French culture and life without cheese – for a hundred years dinners and lunches habitually include courses, dedicated to fromages. According to French cheese etiquette, it is usually served after the main course, before dessert and is often eaten instead of sweets.

Roquefort is a world-famous blue cheese, traditionally made of sheep’s milk and, probably, one of the best-known cheeses in France, along with Brie and Camembert. Diderot, the French philosopher, even attributed the “King of Cheeses” title to Roquefort, declaring in 18th century that “Roquefort cheese is, without doubt, the finest cheese in Europe”. Actually, no one really knows who made the first cheese in the world. But Roquefort’s legendary origin, like most romantic and detective plots, starts with a woman. Cherchez la femme.

According to a folklore narrative, a young shepherd, distracted by a beautiful young woman, left his lunch of bread and cheese in a cave around a thousand years ago. He comes back a few days later to discover blue-green mould from the cave had penetrated the cheese and surprisingly made it rather delightful and tasty.

Whether the tale is accurate or not, we will never reveal the truth, however, by law, the genuine Roquefort must be matured in famous limestone caves of Combalou mountain in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon city, southern plateau of Larzac. Such formula dates back over a thousand years; it is fervently guarded in depths of its natural cellars, built-in rocks. Since the only cheese processed at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, may be labeled Roquefort cheese, other French blue-veined dairies are called just bleu. In fact, it is a general classification of cheeses made of cow, sheep or goat milk that have cultures of definite mould injected.

Roquefort is the first cheese that received a PDO (AOC) protection, glorifying the concept of terroir. Today, some of 3.3 million cheese wheels per year are cured at Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, made by seven Roquefort producers in the world. The largest one so far is Roquefort Société. Roquefort Papillon and Gabriel Coullet are also well-known brands. Their impressive caves are open for visiting (hundreds of wheels of cheese lined up next to each other look so yummy) if you plan a gastro trip to France. Four other producers are Carles, Fromageries Occitanes, Vernières and Combes (Le Vieux Berger).

Thus, true Roquefort is made step by step, following soft cheese recipe, using raw milk from Lacaune sheep, a hardy breed that roams parched landscape grazing on wild herbs. Characterised by soft and moist texture with pockets of blue-green mould, Roquefort is an amazingly complex cheese, taking in herbaceous and mellow umami notes. It has a robust smell and distinguishing flavor with a notable taste of butyric acid; the moulded veins provide a very sharp tang. It has no rind, the surface itself is edible and slightly salty. The king of cheese is creamy and rich – an aroma bouquet is based on smells of sheep's milk and a pinch of limestone.

The most certain and common personality of Roquefort cheese is “net” of blue mould that gives the cheese its extraordinary pungent flavour. Actually, all blue cheeses contain cultures of Penicillium. In case of Roquefort, as mentioned above, certain mould comes from the ground of Combalou caves where cheese is maturing at least for two weeks. So how does mould magic works?

Discovered by Fleming in 1928, the antibiotic abilities of penicillin, borrowed from a species of fungus, are still used today in certain types of drugs, killing bacteria. Thus, does eating blue cheese reduce an antibiotic effect? In fact, no. The strains of Penicillium that are used in the cheesemaking process are different to the ones in medicines and do not have any antibiotic attributes. Moreover, they will be destroyed by your stomach acid anyway.

In addition, mould consumption may have a number of various health benefits. According to The Telegraph report, eating Roquefort cheese routinely could help to avoid cardiovascular disease due to its anti-inflammatory affections.

Blue cheese offers high calcium content – even when compared to other types of cheese. Regular consumption of calcium-rich food such as blue cheese supports bone structure and helps to reduce the risk of progressing osteoporosis. Roquefort also prevents obesity. The huge amount of calcium may be linked to anti-obesity processes that decrease fat levels. According to the latest surveys, blue-moulded cheeses consumption helps to control the level of visceral fat. Enormous level of it is often correlated with higher mortality rates. Many nutrition specialists also stressed that such strong cheese is essential for guts to work and slowing down arthritis. Yet it slowing down the aging process and reduces the risk of cellulite bumps. However, do not get extremely agitated and start to serve moulded cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis. Regrettably, the piquant Roquefort is high in both calories and cholesterol. Thus, moderation is the best way to build up a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet.

Most blue cheeses contain a component known as spermidine, which may also lower the danger of cardiovascular disease. While the true reason for this fact remains unprecise, health experts believe that spermidine has a positive effect on muscle cells and other elements of the cardiovascular system. This phenomenon is also well known as the French paradox – fewer people in France die of cardiovascular disease despite consuming much more saturated fat on average. The famous French diet is based on natural saturated fats such as butter, cheese and cream that the human organism finds effortlessly to metabolize because they are rich in shorter saturated fatty acids.

Perfect partners

Roquefort cheese is mostly used in different salads and dressings. Also, Roquefort goes very well with nuts and figs. Normally, cheeses tend to be paired with wines from the same region keeping the concept of terroir. Thus, Sauternes is the traditional choice, but most red wines work well, as do powerful reds, such as a heavy Languedoc. Besides salads, you can also serve aromatic Roquefort as snacks and marry it with wines such as Bordeaux, Port, Cezar Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon.