a town built on cheese

roquefortRoquefort – both cheese and town – owes its success to a natural disaster. A series of landslides in the plateau some million or so years ago left behind a chaotic heap of rocks riddled with fissures and natural caves, which were ingeniously adapted into cellars for the purpose of making cheese. These cellars lie at the tip of fleurines, or long faults that channel the air flow, creating a constant temperature and humidity year round. (At Societe des Caves – the oldest and largest producer of Roquefort in town – the cellars go eleven stories deep, with fleurines on every level.) To make this King of cheeses, fresh ewes milk is mixed with penicillium roqueforti spores at the dairy and the resulting curds are shaped into large rounds. Before heading to the cellar, each round is needled to create small cavities, allowing for aeration. Deep underground, the cheese is dusted with salt and left to ripen in the bare caves. And here’s where the fleurines works their magic, fostering the growth of microorganisms like the penicillium roqueforti as well as other naturally occurring flora, which slowly ferment the cheese from the inside out, raising its temperature and causing the salt to melt and penetrate down into the cheese. Once ripened, the rounds are wrapped in tin foil by cabanieres, aka “the ladies who wrap the cheese,” and left to mature. Between affinage and maturity, the entire process can take up to twelve months, and the result, if you’ve ever tried real Roquefort, is a uniquely complex and creamy cheese. Little wonder then that Charles VI granted the inhabitants of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon the monopoly on cheese ripening and turned the cellars into a protected landmark. There’s gold in them there fleurines. And it’s blue.

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drink it where it lies

Earlier in the year I spent a few days in downtown San Diego at The US Grant, the historic Starwood hotel with plushly restored interiors and (highlight alert) chummy cocktails crafted by mixologist Jeff Josenhans. Now comes word that he’s taken his mad-scientist skills to a whole other level: the basement. After experimenting with various bottling processes, Josenhans has become the first mixologist to successfully create bottle-conditioned cocktails combining the highly complex (and rarely attempted) champagne method with the brewer’s method. In layman’s terms that means adding yeast to the bottle and allowing the pressure of fermentation to create carbonation before spirits and sugar are mixed in, while the addition of hops adds a spicy spark of brewer’s flare. Because these two processes happen in concert, the result is a smoother spirit with complex flavors and a refined effervescence. Consider it the difference between mass-produced ice cream and artisanal gelato, if you will. Launching as Cocktails Sur Lie (sur lie is a French wine-making term that means having rested on its yeast), you can try a tease or two of the bespoke Mule in a Bottle, made from garden flower-infused vodka, ginger, rock candy sugar, California hops and Champagne yeast in Grant Grill during the current Autumn Mixology Dinner event but to sample the full slate of drinks you’ll have to wait until the official January launch.

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wish list: in vino vibrato

Sonor Wines is the brainchild of Viennese food and wine expert – and horn player – Markus Bachmann. His pioneering method exposes wine to music during fermentation – a process that, according to its inventor, refines the finished product. Bachmann explains that once in the steel fermentation tanks, a biochemical reaction is set in motion by the tiny vibrations triggered by sound waves. He also believes that varieties of wine which have been treated using this technique contain less sugar, have a fuller flavor and are more drinkable. Different genres of music are also said to give the wines different characteristics. In principle, this means any type of music can be used, from symphonic works to hunters’ classics, waltz and polka melodies and even Viennese folk sounds like Schrammelmusik. The process has been put to the test in Vienna’s Wienbauschule Klosterneuburg on a Grüner Veltliner, but no reports yet on whether it bears similar results to playing Mozart in utero. However, a number of leading growers have taken the plunge and put the new approach into practice, including Vienna-based producers Peter Uhler and Franz-Michael Mayer, who have already bottled the first generation. If music be the food of wine, I say, play on.

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