If you bought a stereo system from Big W you wouldn’t expect it to perform like a Bose. Yet, when it comes to food, we seem to want an awful lot of bang for our buck and baulk at paying ‘high’ prices. But like the Bose stereo, if you pay extra for craftsmanship you get better results.
As I learn more about food production, I’m overcome with admiration at some of the people who work in an industry where it must be very tempting to sell out to mass production, but instead choose a different path.
I recently had lunch with Herve Bourgeois who is the export director of Papillon, one of the bigger Roquefort producers in France. Roquefort, as cheese lovers will know, was only allowed back into this country in 2005, following a blanket ban on the importation of unpasturised cheeses.
I knew nothing about how it was made, apart from a vague notion it was aged in caves.
That’s only a small part of a fascinating story as told to me my M. Bourgeois.
Roquefort is made from ewes milk. Specifically Red Lacaune ewes. Papillon have their own farmers whose sheep are pastured at at altitudes of 750 and 1100 metres where the best grass is. The unpasturised milk is delivered within hours of milking and processed to curd. It’s not a pressed curd cheese, rather the curds are allowed to remain loose and aerated which allows the mould to grow. It’s turned frequently to get rid of the moisture.
Then the mould Penicillium Roqueforti that gives the cheese it’s blue hue and bitey flavour is introduced.
Incredibly, this is caught wild in the following way according to M. Bourgeois; Papillon have their own bakery, the purpose of which is to bake the bread with which to catch the penicillium. It’s not just a matter of throwing together some dough though-the bread is made from organic rye flour, made from grains grown grown on acidic terrain at 1000 metres altitude where all chemical fertilisers are prohibited.
The bread is baked, M. Bourgeois tells me when there is the ‘moon of a mushroom’. ie. a full moon at which time mushrooms and other fungi are said to come up. Once baked, the bread is put into empty caves where it stays for 70 days. By which time, M. Bourgeois says it is ‘like a piece of graphite’. This is sprinkled on top of the cheese which is then salted with organic rock salt and pierced with needles 24 times to allow airflow and presumably allow for the penicillin to penetrate.
The caves, which are laval and have natural faultlines which admit air are a steady 7 degrees with 100% humidity. The cheese stays in the caves for between 17and 31 days for the mould to ‘bloom’ and reach all the way from the centre to the edges of the cheese. It’s then wrapped in tin foil to stop a rind forming and put into a second cave for between 5-8 months.
All processes of the production are organic says M. Bourgeois and has been so since 1976, when he says, ‘’hippies’’ moved into the Roquefort and started producing milk without the use of any chemicals.
Roquefort was given an appellation d’origine contrôlée’ label in 1925 and among other stipulations can only be made from the milk of sheep that graze in a designated area centered around the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and must be aged in the natural caves near the village. All Roquefort has a “red ewe’ symbol on it to indicate its authenticity.
So, next time you go to the deli and have a little whinge to yourself about the price of cheese, just think about exactly what’s gone into it. Or else go get some cheap Woolies brie and be done with it.
*this piece has been moved across from my old blog.