This delicious cheese from Rocamadour is one of the region's gastronomic delights not to be missed. Its earliest mention is found in the writings of monks, who were making the cheese in the 11th century. From the 15th century, there is evidence that these small cheeses could be used to pay for tenant farming and taxes. Now a protected product, Rocamadour AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée) is named after this historic village in the Lot. The Rocamadour cheese is in fact produced all over the Quercy region, which is the historic name for the area roughly corresponding to the modern Lot département.
Made from whole raw (unpasteurized) goat's milk, Rocamadour belongs to the cabécou family of cheeses. Cabécous are produced in a wide area of France, extending from the bottom of the Pyrénées, through the Aquitaine basin and up to the high plateaux of the Massif Central in Rouergue.
To merit the prestigious Rocamadour AOP label, the cheese must be produced specifically in the Quercy geographical zone, which takes its name from the Quercus or oak, the tree most commonly found here. It must also be produced according to strict criteria, particularly concerning the conditions under which the herd is kept and the production method of the cheese.
The Alpine and Saanen goats are the only breeds authorised by the label. More than 80% of their food must come from the geographical area of the AOP and consist of at least 70% grazed from natural pasture. The rest is composed of grains (cereals, legumes). Fermented (silage) and genetically modified (GMO) feeds are prohibited.
Annually, farmers milk around 13,600 goats, producing almost 9 million litres of milk. The whole, raw milk is curdled, drained and salted, before being put into moulds 60 mm in diameter by 16 mm in height. The maturing process is carried out in two stages. Firstly, the cheeses are kept for 24 hours at a temperature of 23°C or less and at a humidity of more than 80%. Then further maturing is carried out in a curing room or cellar at a temperature of less than 10 °C and a humidity of more than 85 %, for at least six days after being taken out of the moulds. Production stands at over 1000 tonnes a year - that's 30 million of these wonderful cheeses!
The following video in French shows a visit to a local producer. If you find it a little too fast, try slowing it down by clicking the video's settings icon in the bottom righthand corner:
But enough about the where, why and how. The proof is in the eating! Rocamadour never fails to be a treat. Fresh, its soft centre releases creamy and buttery flavours, with only a very slight goat smell. The cheese's aromas concentrate with age, as it becomes drier. In local restaurants, the young cheeses are often served warmed on toasted bread, with salad, walnuts and a honey dressing. Rocamadour is, however, very versatile. For example it can make the most excellent creamy risotto.
For more ideas and to practise your kitchen French, find lots of great Rocamadour recipes on Marmiton.
Bonne dégustation !
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