It’s summer in France, and we are feeling the heat like never before! With soaring temperatures and the continuation of drought, it is easy to imagine flocking to the Riviera to sip rosé and jump in the sea. But respite may also be found inland, accompanied by some of the finest cheese France has to offer, within Aveyron. Steeped in the history of Occitanie, with its typically dramatic personages of Romans and Templars alike, the area is known not only for its eponymous river and dramatic valleys hosting beautiful and hilly towns, but also for its sheep. Accompanying the arrival of summer are the young, plump ewe’s cheeses made of Spring milk, fatty and full of character. Cazelle de Saint Affrique and Lou Rocaillou spring to mind as lovely little tuffets bursting with lanolin and walnutty flavours. But of course, these all manage to be dwarfed by perhaps France’s most famous cheese: Roquefort.
To truly beat the heat beating upon the karst plateau of the Causse the Larzac, it is best to go spelunking underground into the Combalou caves of bucolic Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Millions of years ago, the collapse of the area’s mountains resulted in a series of caves and fleurines, or fissures in the stone. These cracks are the vehicle by which air and moisture travel into the caves, creating the perfect environment for ageing blue cheese. Outside, Lacaune ewes graze upon the rough shrubbery and grass of the plateau, and since at least the 1st century the cheeses made with their raw milk (and, back in the day, with cow’s milk as well) have been matured within the Combalou system. The OG strain of Penicillium roqueforti dwells within these caves, and traditionally was nurtured on loaves of stale rye sourdough within these caves to be added to the milk (a practice that has nearly vanished in the modern day!). Sitting within the safety of the caves, and lovingly pierced and turned under the supervision of master ripeners, Roquefort matures to the rich, powerful, boozy and unforgettable cheese we all love to enjoy with a glass of Sauternes. And the wheels made with that rich Spring milk? Bleu par excellence!
About the author
Nick Bayne is a cheese specialist for The Fine Cheese Co., 2015 Champion of the Cheesemonger Invitational, and two-time competitor in the Concours Mondial de Meilleur Fromager. He is responsible for sourcing and selecting artisan European cheeses to bring to the United Kingdom