A friend and I traveled to the South of France a short time back. It was a first for me to visit France, and the holiday I would argue, to date, stands out of one of my all-time favorites. Renting a car and setting out from Montpellier, we ventured in a somewhat slapdash fashion with no particular place to be at any particular time, all but for knowing where we would have a bed to sleep in each night. I believe this strategy, if this even was a strategy, was a bold and liberating one. Given it was my friend's birthday trip, I more or less went with his picks for what we would do, where we would go. That, and...well, he was driving!
We rolled into Roquefort-sur-Soulzon on an overcast morning and parked our little Fiat rental at the bottom of a steep hill. The first thing I recognized even before getting out of the car was the odor in the air....a pungency I recognize still each and every time I open a new package of Roquefort at home. This redolence is due largely in part to the veins of mold running through the fleshy-colored sheeps milk body of the cheese. The town itself lies at the base of the Rocher de Combalou, an ancient limestone plateau that is contributory in the development of the Roquefort cheese. To a non cheese connoisseur, Roquefort would likely be lumped into the masses of other Bleu cheeses, however Roquefort is special; in fact, it's 100% unique. It was also the first cheese in France to be given the Appellation d’origine contrôlée, or AOC, a label indicating that the cheese is produced according to certain protocols and produced in a set geographic region. In the late 1990's, it was given the wider European designation of Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO. This means no-one else can make a cheese called Roquefort anywhere else other than in this area under regulated conditions. This ensures that wherever you buy Roquefort in the world, you know you are getting the real thing. Happily for me (and for YOU), we are able to purchase certain aged Roqueforts here in the US. Unfortunately, some of the BEST samples I tasted while visiting are not available in the US due to Department of Food and Drug Administration restrictions. <sigh>
A tour of any of the number of cheese caves is a must-do when visiting Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Additionally, a midday meal incorporating a typical French cheese and fruit plate is kind of required - I mean, who visits without sampling the goods? While there are several caves to visit, we wandered in to Société Roquefort, the largest producer of Roquefort in France. The tour takes about an hour and includes a short biopic film and a wonderful tasting at the end. There is also a museum storying Sociétés history dating back to 1842. A great and completely convenient choice for taking a meal is to dine in with Restaurant La Cave des Saveurs Roquefort Société. A varietal menu is available and offers dishes which focus on traditional French methods. If you sampled the Roquefort and found it amazing the way I did, try a simple Roquefort en soufflé - a 'pièce de résistance' in capping your visit to this amazing tiny but world famous French hamlet.
For information on touring France, please link to France-Voyage.com.