Jeopardy! category: CAVES (20-5-2015)
$1200 clue: To be legally called this blue cheese, it has to be aged in the Combalou Caves of southern France
The gist: If the Jeopardy! writers decided to raise Californian cows and sell Parmesan cheese, they could do so legally.Not so with Roquefort, because it’s one of the relatively few Geographical Indications protected by U.S. law. That’s because (broadly speaking) the term “Parmesan,” although it derives from Parma, Italy, has come to refer to a generic type of cheese, while Roquefort – apparently – still carries the connotation of cheese that comes from that region of France. Don’t ask me, I’m not a lawyer.
Anyway, Roquefort is a blue cheese made with sheep’s milk that may, dubiously, date back to Roman times, as Pliny the Elder remarks about a strong “herbed cheese” from Gaul – which could really be anything. 13 centuries or so later, however, Charles VI of France granted, in a royal decree, that cheese coming from caves in the region of Roquefort could not be seized as payment of debt, since the locals had no wheat or wine, the poor guys, but were blessed with caves that produced a special cheese. Whether or not this cheese-from-Roquefort’s-caves resembled anything like Roquefort today is unclear.
The reason Roquefort must come from Roquefort is that the bacteria that produces the cheese’s blue veins and distinctive taste, P. roqueforti, grows in the caves’ soil, although today the soil is grown in the lab which reduces the element of chance in its production. It’s notable for the strong taste of butyric acid, also the compound principally responsible for the distinctive smell of human vomit. It is soft and crumbly, and is commonly described as “sweet,” “smoky,” and “salty.” According to a bunch of cheese websites I consulted, it goes well with nuts and figs, and can be added to salad dressings, pizza, and pasta. Your mileage may vary.
The clue: If you know your cheese, you’ll know this one: Roquefort is probably the best or second-best known blue cheese, up there with gorgonzola, which is, if you couldn’t tell, Italian. You also know that it’s legally protected, which could again be a hint, but probably only if you know cheese anyway.
In Jeopardy!: Roquefort shows up in 19 clues in the J!Archive (ten more than either gorgonzola or Stilton, a well-known English blue cheese). 13 say that it’s blue, but only three say that it come from sheep’s milk. Its epithet, the “king of cheeses,” comes up in six. France comes up in eight, and caves in four. Really, this cheese has a lot going on, both flavour-wise and Jeopardy! wise. Remember it as a French cheese, but there are lots more of those.