Monday, August 18, 2008

Roquefort

Homage to this fromage! Long hailed as le roi Roquefort, it has filled books and booklets beyond count. By the miracle of Penicillium Roqueforti a new cheese was made. It is placed historically back around the eighth century when Charlemagne was found picking out the green spots of Persillé with the point of his knife, thinking them decay. But the monks of Saint-Gall, who were his hosts, recorded in their annals that when they regaled him with Roquefort (because it was Friday and they had no fish) they also made bold to tell him he was wasting the best part of the cheese. So he tasted again, found the advice excellent and liked it so well he ordered two caisses of it sent every year to his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. He also suggested that it be cut in half first, to make sure it was well veined with blue, and then bound up with a wooden fastening.

Perhaps he hoped the wood would protect the cheeses from mice and rats, for the good monks of Saint-Gall couldn't be expected to send an escort of cats from their chalky caves to guard them—even for Charlemagne. There is no telling how many cats were mustered out in the caves, in those early days, but a recent census put the number at five hundred. We can readily imagine the head handler in the caves leading a night inspection with a candle, followed by his chief taster and a regiment of cats. While the Dutch and other makers of cheese also employ cats to patrol their storage caves, Roquefort holds the record for number. An interesting point in this connection is that as rats and mice pick only the prime cheeses, a gnawed one is not thrown away but greatly prized.

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