Friday, October 14, 2011

A North Wind Is Preferred For Cheesemaking; South Wind From The Sea Is Best For Maturing

I.  Does this great cheese, so glorious at best, need butter?  It has been a deplorable but common custom in France to mix butter with Roquefort, making a spread of it.  In my Breton guise, as if hailing from the banks of the great River Rance), I am used to eating butter under cheese (like the Normans), but mixing it, never. It spoils both.  As a possible child of Rouergat ancestry (near Roquefort there is the le tout petit ruisseau nommé Rance," as another Rouergat described it to me), I regard butter as quite unnecessary with any Roquefort I choose to eat; but some demand it to take the edge off such cheeses as the sharper also-rans of the Gault-Milau race.


          As for wine, let any who have felt uneasy when accompanying Roquefort with red wine other than port try sweet or very fruity drier white wines.  Chateau d'Yquem is the perfect but extravagant counsel of some great gourmets.  Closer to hand, and more reasonable, are Périgord’s Montbazillac, Banyuls and Rivesaltes rancis.  In England a sweet old dark ale or barley wine would do well, especially out of doors.

A fleurine in a Roquefort cave.   It is through the complex system of interconnected cracks or faults known as fleurines that the air runs through the Roquefort caves, maintaining constant conditions of wetness (95-99%) and temperature (7-11°C).

II. All the laiteries belong to the Roquefort cave proprietors.  Weather conditions are charted daily, together with detailed timings of each stage of cheesemaking, and the amount of rennet and pennicillium used.   Even the wind direction is tested, by the wet-finger method, and recorded. A north wind is preferred for cheesemaking because it is cooling for the dairy; traditionally making might “wait for the wind.”  South wind from the sea is best for maturing, being the only one to penetrate the fleurines and create the necessary movement of moisture and spores throughout the caves.  

A Roquefort cave

          Monsieur Albert Alric told me that Papillon laiteries keep similar charts and pointed out that if a customer complains and gives the date and vat of marking, it is possible to trace the conditions in which the particular cheese was made and all the details of its making to see whether the fault lay with the laiterie or the caves.   Dairy workers are paid for the whole year, although they do not have to work in the period when no milk is being collected.

A Roquefort laiterie 

          “There are eight stories below us,” Monsieur Laur said as we left his office and started descending the old staircase down into the caves.   The servants’ staircase, it might be called, for people are only here to serve; the cheeses are the masters for whom the lift is reserved.  It is salutary to think back to the days when they had to be carried up and down the stairs. Through the dimness, giving way to darkness away from the stair-shaft, only the cheeses seem to give off light against the deep, damp-saturated oaken uprights and shelves.  Chill moisture is the constant factor, together with the invisible spores, the two combining to create and nourish a greasy floor and stair covering (take sensible, non-slip shoes and wooly clothing, and do not dig your heels in).  On the south wall the naked rock is split by the irregular fleurines, great sinister cracks occasionally letting through the merest gleam from an upper, outer world.

1929 Château d’Yquem – 5 * -- Michael Broadbent
"A deep, rich amber, some [bottles] a rose tinted tawny; peaches and cream ride uppermost, also apricots, peeled sultanas, sometimes slightly chocolatey, always richly penetrating." 

"The perfect but extravagant counsel." 

Live a little, I say (hopefully).  The end is near.  If not, live a little (I say hopefully). Seana (below) clearly wants to.

From Patrick Rance:  The French Cheese Book.  Macmillan, London, 1989.   

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