Blue cheese is a general classification of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk cheeses that have had cultures of the mold Penicillium added so that the final product is spotted or veined throughout with blue, blue-gray or blue-green mold, and carries a distinct smell, either from that or various specially cultivated bacteria. Some blue cheeses are injected with spores before the curds form and others have spores mixed in with the curds after they form. Blue cheeses are typically aged in a temperature-controlled environment such as a cave. Blue cheese can be eaten by itself or can be crumbled or melted into or over foods. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Roquefort is a variety of blue cheese, but to be called “Roquefort,” by law, it must be “aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.” According to legend, it was in those very caves when a young man, tempted by a beautiful girl, abandoned his lunch including ewes’ milk cheese in a cave. When he returned to the cave a few months later, he was startled to discover that the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his forgotten lunch into Roquefort. Viola!
Only the French could have such a romantic backstory about the invention of a cheese.
The other day I was thinking about First Meal. I’ve been spending a lot of my time planning what I will eat after my 39-days of Abyss Island are over. I’ve taken to calling it First Meal and it has assumed legendary importance in my life. The odds on favorite is currently homemade fried chicken. Oh yes.
I was thinking about this when I remarked to my wife, “You know what I want to eat for First Meal?” She just rolled her eyes. “What the hell ever happened to Roquefort, anyway? I used to look for the official seal, then poof. One day it was just gone man.”
Well, I think found out what happened. And, believe it or not, the trail leads right back to George W. Bush. Holy moldy! Son of a bitch!
The legacy of my language class and a teacher who was important to me and had an impact on my life. I’ve eaten snails, I know how to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” in French, and I like Roquefort cheese.
I also know other key phrases such as, “Look! The number is above the door.” I’m sure that phrase will serve me well if I ever find myself lost in the French countryside. If I do, I’ll try to find my way to southwest France and a unique village know as Roquefort.
The Roquefort War
Our story begins in France in 1999. There was a rebellion of sorts by the French people against Americana, McDonalds, and U.S. beef containing hormones. A Frenchman named José Bové starting causing a raucous, taking up the cause of natural foods, traditional ways, and railing against industrial farming. He even led an attack against a local McDonalds restaurant (for which he was convicted) which was seen as a symbol of the United States. His message was supported by some French people and even more so in the village of Roquefort where adherence to tradition was a vital ingredient to their way of life. Roquefort has been around for a long, long time. It was even mentioned in writing by a man named Pliny the Elder who remarked on its rich flavor.
it was in 1999 during a dispute with the European Union over U.S. beef containing hormones that the United States enacted a 100 percent retaliatory tariff against Roquefort.
Then came the Iraq war. French President Jacques Chirac didn’t help matters much when he criticized the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. It was around this time that so-called “freedom fries” had their day in the sun and came to symbolize criticism of France.
Even with the 100 percent tariff, however, Roquefort fought and was able to maintain a niche market in the United States.
Then came the end of George W. Bush. In one of the final acts of his administration, Bush backed 100 percent tariffs on products from the European Union. But he singled out Roquefort cheese for his piece de resistance. A whopping 300 percent tariff! That’ll teach those Frenchies, right Bushie?
In early 2009, Susan Schwab, outgoing US Trade Representative, announced a 300% tariff on the cheese, apparently the highest level by far of any in the package of tariffs placed on dozens of European luxury goods in response to a European ban on hormone treated US beef. The tariff was suspended several months later as the US and EU settled the dispute. (Source: Wikipedia.)
The deal between the US and the EU tripled the amount of U.S. beef and restored the previous tariff of 100 percent on Roquefort for the next three years. I’m not sure where it is today. I tried reading the government website but it melted my brain.
So now I’m on the hunt for Roquefort for my ingénue tummy’s coming out party. Roquefort pizza. Roquefort burger. Fried chicken dipped in Roquefort sauce. Don’t worry, don’t worry! As an American I know exactly how to put that frommage to good use. Oh sweet fromage. Get in my belly!