They beckon to us from the deli counter where they stand side by side in the space dedicated to blue cheeses, sharing the same blue veins and intense aroma. Similar, but by no means identical, Gorgonzola and Roquefort are two cheese varieties produced respectively in Italy and France, two life-long competitors on the world cheese market. Both are noble delicacies for hearty palates and authentic gourmets. They are best when served at room temperature and pair beautifully with full-bodied red wines, passito and Marsala, or even abbey beers. Let’s find out exactly how they differ.
Place of production
It must be pointed out that PDO Gorgonzola can be either mild (dolce) or pungent (piccante) but for the sake of this comparison we shall be referring to the natural or pungent version, which is more similar to Roquefort. The Gorgonzola Consortium has established that only two regions of Northern Italy are authorised to produce this cheese: Lombardy and Piedmont. On the other hand, Roquefort comes from the South of France, namely from the region of Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées, and more precisely from the Municipal district of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. This area stands at the foot of Mont Combalou, under which an enormous underground city has been excavated, a network of extremely deep and ventilated caverns, the so-called fleurines.
This is possibly the most essential difference between the two cheeses. Gorgonzola is made from unskimmed pasteurised cow’s milk and is either mild or pungent according to how long it has been aged - from 50 to 80 days - to obtain different consistencies: either mild and creamy, or firm, crumbly and pungent. Roquefort is produced from ewe’s milk, sourced exclusively from the Lacaune breed of sheep which are put out to pasture on the peaks of the Aveyron Pyrenees.
The formation of mould in milk has two different sources: in the case of Gorgonzola its presence is due to the addition of 'penicillium' mould spores which create the typical greenish veins and give this cheese its pungent aroma, so in actual fact gorgonzola mould is induced. Roquefort, on the other hand, produces its noble mould naturally, owing to the action of the penicillium existing in the Combalou caves.
The stronger flavoured natural Gorgonzola is left to age in ripening cells for at least 80 days and, in the case of gorgonzola 'reserve', as long as 120 days. Roquefort lies for at least 90 days in the cave system at the foot of Mount Combalou: here, humidity and temperature remain constant, and each producer has his allotted ripening area. The brine salting process also takes place in the caves. The wheels rest on their sides until the formation of the characteristic emerald green and royal blue veins, which stand out in contrast with the pale shade of the paste.
Gorgonzola has a thick reddish brown rind which is hard, rough, solid and inedible. Instead, Roquefort has no rind because the high degree of humidity in the caves prevents its formation. Even after the ageing process and after being wrapped in tinfoil, Roquefort continues to be devoid of rind while its paste is soft, fatty and spreadable.
The paste of Gorgonzola cheese is firmer and less creamy, because its bluish green veining is less pronounced than that of its cousin Roquefort. Both cheese varieties have a strong aroma but that of Gorgonzola recalls mushrooms, earthy hints of the undergrowth and cooked butter. It is saltier on the palate. Gorgonzola loves the company of pears and walnuts and is perfect for melting in polenta and risottos. A bizarre pairing is with 70% dark chocolate. An authentic Roquefort is mild and buttery with hints of dried fruit. It can accompany sweet fruit and any raw vegetable but be careful not to overwhelm other ingredients with its intense flavour: purists love to enjoy it placed on toasted walnut bread. It is blissful when accompanied with ginger mustard and Zibibbo grape honey. It is possible to make a versatile cream of Roquefort by heating it gently, but this is never recommended with the more mature and valuable wheels.