| Roquefort. Photo: Furey and the Feast, Flickr
In the United States, Roquefort -- which has undergone quite the year in the press -- most frequently winds up in salads. Stateside cheese shops usually carry just one or two varieties.
In Paris, however, the stinky blue fromage is a staple; it's nearly impossible not to find several varieties at local supermarkets and an abundance at the fromageries, where varieties range from mildly spicy and sweet to pungent and creamy.
Three main factors cause this: the specific culture of Penicillium roqueforti (the fungus used to create the blue veins in the cheese) used; the types of caves and the quantity made. There's a bit of mystique, too: "What distinguishes one strain of Penicillium roqueforti from another one is part of the cheesemaker's secret," says Mme. Barthélémy, fromagère at Paris's Barthélémy cheese shop, which sells a to-die-for artisanal Roquefort.
Five fave Roqueforts after the jump.
Here's a quick guide to our five favorite Roqueforts, most of which you can find stateside and all of which you can find in France.
Roquefort Société -- Easy to find at chain stores due to its large-scale production, this mild, tangy blue offers a crumbly, creamy texture friendly to both the timid palate and the more adventurous one. What's more, it's perfect for spicing up a salad.
Roquefort Papillon -- The pristine white paste of this traditional Roquefort is spotted with blue veins that impart a deliciously pungent peppery tang. It's aged in the center of the renowned Roquefort caves that maintain the same temperature and humidity throughout the year thanks to a series of natural fault lines, called fleurines, which allow for constant ventilation.
Roquefort Carles -- Those looking for a more complex succession of flavors, ranging from spicy to sweet and rich, should not look any further. This Roquefort comes from a small, family-run operation. The craftsmanship and excellent attention to detail can be detected in the well-balanced taste and luscious mouthfeel of their cheese.
Roquefort Baragnaudes -- Produced by the Société producer mentioned above, this artisanal Roquefort stands apart due to an intensely rich and smooth velvety texture that slowly melts on the palate. The overall flavor is an exquisite balance of tangy and creamy. Unlike its Société cousin, this is aged in an extraordinary natural limestone cave.
Roquefort Vieux Berger -- Coming from the smallest producer of Roquefort, the Vieux Berger brilliantly mixes the best qualities of the four mentioned above. This Roquefort is pungent yet sweet, creamy and fudgy, yet at times firm and crumbly. The flavor is complex, with several layers to experience each time you eat a piece.
With the exception of the Baragnaudes, only available in France, all of the above Roqueforts are imported to the U.S. and can be found at select specialty-cheese shops. The Société and Papillon are sold at Whole Foods.
This French treasure is very much in line with the nation's motto, "Liberté, Égalité et Fraternité." It's a democratic cheese with enough diversity in taste to appeal to all -- on this side of the ocean or the other.