When people think of France, they think of French cheese. And when people think of French cheese, they think of Roquefort.
This salty ewe’s milk cheese, speckled with deep green mold, has come to represent an entire country’s gastronomic tradition, but France’s most famous cheese can’t be produced just anywhere!
To be deemed real Roquefort, the cheese must ripen in the mysterious caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the Aveyron department, where the elements of water and air stream through the fleurines. The chilly humidity (a constant 46°-50°F and 90-95% humidity year round) is welcome relief from southern France heat. These fleurines, natural tunnels through the Combalou plateau, are just one of the secrets of Roquefort.
To unlock the many other secrets of this emblematic cheese, the tastiest way is to visit one of the seven cheese cellars lining the Avenue de Lauras:
Papillon: Here visitors enjoy a free guided tour into the cellars, where they’ll discover what makes this family operation unique. Not only were they the first to produce organic Roquefort, they are also the only to harvest mold spores from rye bread they bake themselves.
Gabriel Coulet: A short, free visit into a recreated cheese cellar gives visitors a good idea of how this 5th generation cheese producer carries on the Roquefort tradition.
Société: The star of the Roquefort cellars, Société puts on a sound and light show glorifying the king of cheeses, takes visitors through an extensive network of caves and fleurines, and rewards them with the sight of 33,000 loaves of cheese ripening beneath limestone arches. There is a 3 euro entrance fee (reduced rate 2 euros; children under 16 free)
Carles: A smaller cellar that still produces Roquefort entirely by hand. Jacque Carles opens his shop to visitors and shares his story with passion and tenderness. The cellars are not, however, open to the public.
Combes Le Vieux Berger: This family run cellar has been producing Roquefort since 1923, just before the cheese won its AOC label. Yves Combes opens his workshop to visitors, but groups should call ahead.
Les Fromageries Occitanes: While the cellars of Les Fromageries Occitanes are not open to visits, epicureans can go straight to the source by visiting one of the ewe farms that supplies the milk that goes into La Pastourelle Roquefort.
Vernières: This cellar cannot be visited.
For the visits, remember to bring a jacket, as the temperature hovers around 48°F and the visit can last up to an hour.
For more info: The tourism office of Roquefort will be happy to help you organize a delicious visit to Roquefort. Contact the Comité départemental du tourisme de l’Aveyron (Aveyron Tourism Committee) for more information on what awaits you in Aveyron…there’s more than you think to this lesser known department!