I’m becoming a bit obsessed with cheese lately.
I suppose that living in France it was always going to happen. You can hardly eat a chunk of cheese without someone telling you a story about it and when food comes with such a fascinating history it’s hard not to get caught up.
Take Reblochon for instance. I was in a little restaurant in Le Touquet and I ordered moules cooked in white wine and Reblochon cheese. It was delicious. A lady on the table next to mine heard me say “I’ve never tried Reblochon before in a sauce – it’s really nice”. She was a French lady and explained the story of Reblochon to me. It comes from Haute Savoie and comes from the word ‘reblocher’ , literally: ‘to pinch a cow’s udder again’. In the 14th century, the French farmers were taxed according to how much milk their herds produced. The canny farmers in this part of France would only partially milk the cows when the tax assessors arrived and when they left the cows would be milked again. This would make for a fuller milk which was used to make Reblochon cheese.
Of course that was it, now when I go anywhere I don’t wait to be told the history of the fromage I’m indulging in – I ask anyone in ear shot and I’ve heard some extraordinary stories!
We’ve apparently been eating cheese for millennia, a scientific journal claims that fragments of cheese were found on a Neolithic site in Poland dating back to 5500BC – I’d call that a very mature cheddar. The history of cheese in France goes back many centuries and there are many fabulous cheese stories and cheese lovers like 18th Century French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who rather indelicately said “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” He has a cheese named after him, Brillat-Savarin is a soft, cream cheese made in Normandy and Burgundy.
One that is on my list of must-eats is Vieux-Boulogne which is made in Pas de Calais. This cheese is officially the world’s smelliest cheese! It was tested by Cranfield University with an “electronic nose” sensor and I have smelled it myself from about 100 metres away from where it was being sold!
I was in a café last week and on the bar there were some little bits of saucisson and cheese for customers to help themselves – I love this practice, it’s very common where I live and very civilised. One of the cheese pieces was Roquefort – a well-known, common cheese, but as the barman explained, with an uncommon history. “One day a shepherd was eating his lunch of bread and cheese made from ewe’s milk in a cave. He saw a pretty girl in the distance and decided to introduce himself… he is after all a Frenchman “ he said with a wink. “Unfortunately for ‘im, the girl, she was not interested and he came back to finish his lunch. But, disaster, his cheese had gone mouldy”.
How long was he gone for I wanted to know, did he follow the poor girl for hours through the hills of the south of France until someone rescued her. “I don’t know, a long time, he was persistent, perhaps a day, a week perhaps months… anyway it doesn’t matter. When he returned, the cheese of his lunch was mouldy and green, but he was hungry so he ate it. It was delicious. It was Roquefort.”
This apparently happened hundreds of years ago and in 1411, King Charles VI granted a monopoly for the ripening of the cheese to the people of Rouquefort-sur-Soulzon.
I can’t honestly say I’ve been a fan of Roquefort cheese, a little tangy for my taste but knowing the history actually added to my enjoyment of eating it so much it tasted fantastic!
All these cheesy histories (cheestories) are giving me a completely different perspective on the fromages I eat, a new appreciation for the complexities of how they are made and evolved – I am calling myself the Dita von Cheese of my little village…
Read how scientists are considering using Roquefort in beauty products (it has anti-ageing qualities)
See how to put together an award winning cheese platter with the French Champion du Fromages!