Beyond Brie: French AOC Sheep's Milk Cheese
If the most adventurous French food you have ever tried is Brie, you are in for a treat when you venture beyond to discover France's cheeses made from sheeps' milk. A little courage in trying new foods will reward you with a great culinary experience!
French sheep's milk cheese comes in many varieties, but only two have earned the coveted AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) designation, and each shows the incredible skill of French cheesemakers. (The AOC designation means that the French government has certified that the product meets stringent standards; you can read about the standards below.) Both of these sheep milk cheeses are of very ancient origin (one variety can be precisely dated to 79 A.D.) and have been made in almost the same way since then.
AOC French Cheese made from Sheep's Milk
- Roquefort - This is the variety almost everyone has heard of, and is the basis for the salad dressing. The very first variety to gain the coveted AOC designation (it gained protected status in 1925), this cheese is made in the south of France and must be made in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Legend says that a young man, while eating his lunch, saw a beautiful girl and ran after her, leaving his lunch behind. When he returned a month later, the cheese had moulded and became what is now known as Roquefort. In fact, colanders used to make cheese have been discovered in prehistoric archaeological layers. The only breeds of sheep allowed are the Lacaune, Manech and Basco-Béarnaise, and the milk must be gathered at least 20 days after lambing, the sheep must be pastured locally, and if fed, the grain must be locally harvested grain. The milk used must be whole, raw, and unpasteurized, and the whole process, from start to finish, of making the cheese, must be done within the commune. At present, there are only nine producers of Roquefort cheese. If your only introduction to this cheese is in the salad dressing, this is a cheese worth trying!
- Ossau-Iraty - The other AOC French sheep's milk cheese, since antiquity made by shepherds. Now there are over sixty producers, and this is a slightly nutty, creamy, and mild cheese with an edible rind. It is also safe for people who are lactose-intolerant. This cheese is uncooked and made with raw, unpasteurized sheep's milk.
Anything you ever wanted to know about the manufacturing process, varieties, regulations, and much, much more.