Welcome back to CODY'S WORLD OF CHEESE, where our resident cheesemonger Cody Reiss explains what funky fromages you should definitely be eating.
Roquefort was the cheese that made me fall in love with blues. In fact, when I tried it for the first time in Paris, I almost got a tattoo of it on my thigh (for the love of baby god, do not tell this to my mother). But like all blue cheeses, and my 9/11 rom-com script, Roquefort is divisive and misunderstood. So please, grab a slab of that moldy shit, a glass of sweet white wine, and let me introduce you to this week’s necessary smashable: Roquefort.
While all of our evolutionary instincts tell us to have mad unprotected sex, sabotage others for our own personal gain, and most importantly, avoid eating mold at all costs, the blue mold found in blue cheese (Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium glaucum), is actually quite dank, and yields two highly chill side effects: It breaks down proteins to bless the cheese with righteous creaminess, and it breaks down fats to produce those distinctly tangy, peppery, and sharp flavors. In the wrong hands, however, these same molds can yield one not-so-chill side effect: high levels of butyric acid, which leaves some blue cheeses tasting like bile and pennies (butyric acid is the same compound famous for giving vomit its trademark smell). I know what you’re thinking: “I love vomit, tell me more.” Nah, sorry dude. Roquefort, or “The King of Cheese,” as Diderot famously called it, has little to do with these vastly inferior blues; it is decidedly non-vomity, and it is built for maximum snarfage.
Roquefort is a sheep’s milk blue cheese that is aged for about five months in, and only in, the natural, humid caves of Roquefort-sur-soulzon in southern France, where Penicillium roqueforti grows in the soil. As it ages, the exterior of cheese is heavily salted and wrapped in foil, preventing the growth of a rind, and leaving the outside moist, bright white, with a deeply earthy aroma. The interior is creamy and slightly crumbly, flecked with blue-green caverns of minerally, granular mold. The white parts of the cheese are pretty salty, and a little sweet, which perfectly balances out the unmistakable piquancy (or sharpness) of the scary-looking blue veins. It doesn’t taste like mold, exactly, but rather like you somehow fell in love with a crust punk that had been “riding the rails” and “not showering” for the past few months, and at the end of the night after you’d made some of the most intense love of your entire life, you licked the sweet, salty sweat off of his dirty forehead. In a good way, though. Perhaps more accurately, as this fine blue cheese melts on your tongue, it’s like you were taking a deep sniff of the moldy soil and licking the fresh salt off the moist walls of the prehistoric Roquefort caves.
Like my best-friend-turned-worst-enemy Kyle, Roquefort loves to hang out with sweet things that can take the edge off of its aggressive sharpness—think honey, candied nuts, and poached or dried fruit. Roquefort is also frighteningly smackable with the slightly bitter, roasty flavors of a nice dark chocolate. If you’re a total #beefhead, like Kyle was before he passed, Roquefort can also bring the tangy punch to fatty, savory foods — try sliding a casual nug on your ribeye or on top of your burger. Personally though, I’m a freaky little fig boy, so if you want to do like me, you’ll grab some fresh figs, dark bread, and maybe a soft, milder cheese to balance it out, combine them, and smash the whole thing directly into your teeth compartment. Like all cheeses, just make sure to let it come to room temperature for an hour before you hoover. As far as drink selection goes, the classic pairing is a Sauternes, but any sweet white wine or cider would do well here; if you’re eating it with savory foods, a fruity red or bold barleywine could also be a slick move.
As with anything that challenges your palate, I encourage you to take a mindful moment to try and appreciate the peculiar delectability of Roquefort. If it’s too strong for you, well, “you might be a redneck”—Jeff Foxworthy, hahaha. But, if you end up wanting something on the milder and creamy side, grab a chunk of Cambozola black label, a beautiful Bavarian triple-crème that tastes like blue cheese ice cream; if you’re looking for something more in the middle, grab Saint Agur, the Irish Cashel Blue, Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill, or ye old Stilton. If you’re looking for something more intense, in the “bile and pennies” category, try the densely blued Valdeon or the very special Rogue River Blue, wrapped in brandy-soaked grape leaves.
If that's not enough for you, eat some actual pennies, you bile-guzzling freak.
Cody Reiss is a comedian, cook, and cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York City. He has made cheeses at home and on farms in Brazil and New York, and has traveled to more than 35 different countries, sampling over 350 different cheeses along the way. You can follow him on Instagram at @realdankfood.