Wednesday 2 March 2016

le fromage, la légende

Via the ever-inspiring and inspired Nag on the Lake, we are treated to a very fine monograph on the limestone caverns of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron region where the legitimate and right-honourable king of cheeses is cured, in accordance with age-old methods.

A particular mould that thrives in the soil of these caves—Penicillium roqueforti—creates the blue veins and imbues the distinctive taste, and prior to the isolation and understanding of penicillin, the cheese was used as a salve by local shepherds to promote the healing of wounds and stave off infections. Although remarked upon by Roman naturalist and historian Pliny the Elder and prehistoric cheesemakers’ sieves have been found in the caves, local lore has it that a young shepherd enjoying a repast of bread and sheep cheese was beguiled by the sight of a beautiful maiden, and stashing his meal in a cave (and apparently abandoning his flock for the requisite months it takes to transform plain ewe-cheese into Roquefort) and pursued her. The shepherd returned empty-handed and retrieved his remembered lunch, eating it in spite of the mould. Reading the article reminded me how back in 1999, le Roi de Fromage was embroiled in a heated-tariff war when the US imposed an impossibly high “Roquefort tax,” duties on French exports in retaliation for the country’s stance against hormonally beefed-up beef and against malbouffe—fast-food culture, in general.