[From the. Grocer.] The preparation and maturing of Roquefort cheese are the most elaborate, careful, and interesting of all cheese-manufacturing processes. In its rich color and blue vein marbling, it bears a close resemblance to our Stilton, the most esteemed by the gourmet of all native cheeses, of which, perhaps, it is the most carefully made. The art of dining is an eminently progressive art, and with the advance of knowledge and the refinement of taste, the Roquefort cheese increases in respect. The amiable and witty Brillat-Savarin, who was the most enlightened . of gastronomes, has said that a dinner without cheese is like a lovely woman with only ono eye. Many other gastronomes go farther than this, and declare that no choicely concocted menu is complete without fromage de Roquefort. It cannot be regarded as a new favorite by any means; indeed it may be said to be as old as the hills which give it birth, for it was a familiar delicacy to the Roman palate, and its praises were sung- by Pliny. The birthplace of Roquefort cheese is in the mountains which rise in the southeast of France, half way between the Eastern Pyrenees, and the beautiful but boisterous gulf of the Mediterranean, called the Gulf of Lyons. The village of Roquefort, in the French department of Aveyron, is a place somewhat difficult to get at. It is about ten miles from the railway station at Milhau. It lies on the flank of a mountain in one of the most beautiful valleys of France. It is sheltered by forests of superb chestnut trees, a limpid mountain stream runs before it, while behind tower the rugged sides of the plateau of Larzac, 1970 feet above the sea level. It is upon this plateau that the immense flocks of sheep from whose milk the cheese is made find their :ood. In the sides of these rocks is excavated a perfect cheeso-citadel. The cliffs are honeycombed in every direction with caverns, natuial and artificial, some of them five stories in hight. Hence we find in this district a happy combination of requisites; the summit of the plateau offering pasturage, the broad flanks of the rocks caves for warehousing and ripening, while the village so snugly nestling below supplies the human elements of the trade. The food which the ewes obtain upon the stony pasturage is composed of herbs of the choicest flavor, and a great deal of the superiority of this kind ot cheese may be attributed to this cause; but it is to the caverns of Roquefort, above all, that the success of the comestible is due, The average temperature of these caverns is about 30° Fahrenheit. The learned have been fertile in theorizing as te the causes of this low and equable temperature; but, according to M. Tur-gan's great work “Les Grandes Usines de France,” to which we are indebted for a great deal of the information to be found here, no generally accepted explanation i ias yet been given. Whatever may be the causo, these cool vaults were turned to good use by the local shepherds from the most distant times, and Roquefort cheeses are very often mentioned in old French charters. By an edict of the parliament of Toulouse, in 1550, the monopoly of the Roquefort cheese manufacture was granted to the village of that name, and other persons were prohibited from making it. As time went on, and commerce extended, the reputation of these caverns spread till the country folks, for miles around, came to offer payment for the privilege of depositing their cheeses in these rock-warehouses. A better system ot trade was inaugurated at a later period. By this improved mode, which simplified the process of production and sale, the producers sold their wares to the proprietors of the caves, who kept the cheeses till they were perfectly ripened, and then sold them on their own account. Just before the close of the last century, the i entire trade was in the hands of three rival firms, and the annual production was about 250 tuns. Between the years 1800 and 1815 the production rose to 500 tuns. After the fall of Napoleon, and until about 1830, there was an almost perfect stagnation of trade in France. The cheese fell in price, the three monopolists were ruined, and the Roquefort establishments passed into new and more numerous hands. Sub [October 16, 1869. sequently the trade was exposed to vicissitude's, out of which however, it came triumphant, and at the present day it is in a flourishing condition; it is better organized, and its commercial relations are widely extended. As we have stated, the cheese of Roquefort is made from the milk of ewes, of a particular breed, called the Larzac breed, named after the plateau of Larzac, which was their original feeding ground. Some years ago many attempts were made to imp rove the old style of manufacture, by using the milk of the cow and of the goat, as well as by introducing another breed of sheep; but these experiments always turned out unsuccessfully. Forty years since, General Salignac put to the Larzac ewes some merino rams. Ho desired to, try the effect of crossing —hoping to get blended in the cross-bred animal the milk-producing qualities of the ewes, and the silky merino of the ram. Unfortunately his experiments were imitated by others, for the result was a great falling off in the production of milk. A new order of things now prevails; the sheep-owners seek for animals of the pure race, careful feeding and the best hygienic conditions are relied upon to improve The quality of the fleece. But it is the milk-producing powers of these animals that occupy the farmer's most anxious care. At the present moment there are about 350,000 sheep. We may set down the rams, lambs, sick beasts, etc., at 150,000; the remaining 200,000 are milk-producing ewes. The average value of a three-yeq,r-old ewe is 20 francs. At the age of seven years they are fattened up f<ilr market, and are sold to the butcher at theOeptember fairs, at an average of 15 francs each. It used to be the plan to feed the sheep exclusively on wild thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, and mint, together with such other kinds of herbage as could be found growing in the rocky crevices of the stony plateau. A cow could never find sustenance in this region, even if she could pick her way over the rugged ground. Lately, however, various successful attempts have been made to introduce Burgundian hay, which has been found capable ot sustaining the almost tropical heat of midsummer in this region, Each ewe yields an annual profit to her proprietor of 28 francs—that is to say, milk, 20 francs; wool, 5 francs; and lamb, 3 francs. The average annual production of six ewes is about 200 lbs., which is about double what they gave a century ago. This increased yi eld is due to careful keep of the animals; they never pass the night in the open air, but lire brougirt home from the pasturages every evening to clean, spacious, and well-ventilated sheep-folds. After being allowed a rest of one hour, the whole of the ewes are driven out into a roomy courtyard, where they are milked. It requires seven persons to milk, twice a day, a flock of two hundred ewes. The way in which they are milked is somewhat peculiar; each ewe passes through three different hands. The first draws from the teat all the milk he can, by gently pressing the udder; this done, he passes on the animal to the milker seated next him. This latter gives two or three sharp blows with the back of his hand upon the teat, and then milks until the udder appears to be exhausted. The third milker then takes the ewe, strikes it in a similar way, and draws away whatever remaining milk there may be in the teat. It is usual to mix the evening's produce with that of the following morning, obtained before the departure of the flocks for the pasturage. The evening's milk is heated up, but as a rule the morning's milk is not. After being mixed and curdled by rennet in the ordinary way, the curds are subjected to very great pressure to get rid of as much whey as possible. The curd is then placed in earthenware molds, with holes pierced in them. Between the different layers of curd there is placed a small quantity of a bluish-green powder, which is supplied to the ewe-owners by the proprietors of the caves. This powder is nothing else than mold of bread prepared in a certain way specially for this purpose. The powder acts as a ferment, which, during the subsequent sojourn of the cheeses in the caves, hastens the production of those blue veins which the connoisseur exacts in his fromage de RoqwrjiYrrf. The cheeses are turned many times during the three days in which they re main in the earthenware molds. They arc frequently wiped, so as to dry them without heat, and during the drying stage they are often wrapped in coarse cloths to prevent them cracking. When they have acquired the necessary consist ency, they are transferred to the caves. The very best kinds of Roquefort cheese are produced in the immediate environs of the village of that name, but the adjoining valleys of Camares and Sorgue produce a great quantity of less excellent kinds. The difference in quality is due to the fact that the pasturage is superior in the neighborhood of Roquefort. The cheeses are sold at the various fairs held during the year in the department of Aveyron. A society of proprietors purchases the cheeses from the producers at a fixed price; and by carefully drawn-up agreements the former engage to take all that the latter can produce. By this method, which appears to suit both parties, the precious cheeses escape being hawked about on hot and dusty country roads. They pass at once from the dairy to the caves. Many of the farmers forward their produce to the caves in carts, but for the most part the cheeses are taken thither on the hacks of mules, which set out before sunrise so as to escape the heat as much as possible. Each description of cheese has its own distinctive mark, which shows from which dairy it has come. By this mark its maker can always be recognized. Should there be any faults of shape or quality, the maker lias to answer for them to tho cave proprietor. As a rule, However, the agriculturists never attempt fraud. At this stage, the cheeses weigh about 6-J lbs. each, are about eight inches in hight by four in diameter, and of a shining white color. They are all examined on entrance to the receiving room of the caves, after which they arc forwarded to the salting-hall, there to undergo special treatment. The temperature of this salting hall is not less than fifteen degrees lower than the outer ra- © 1869 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
This article was originally published with the title "Roquefort Cheese" in Scientific American 21, 16, 242-243 (October 1869)