Following on from the lovely Morbier in June we bring you the wonderfully French Comté as this month's fromage du mois!
As the older brother of Morbier this cheese also comes from the same hilly regions in the east of France - Franche-Comté and Rhône-Alpes - where the Montbéliarde cattle graze on lush green pastures and the milk that they produce is known for it's sweetness.
Any guesses how much milk is needed to make a 35kg wheel of Comté? Approximately 530 litres (the hard work of around 30 cows) goes into each lovely tome of this French favorite! Comté is so popular that it surpasses all other AOP cheeses in terms of yearly production, which means that around 64,000 tonnes of this cheese are produced each year. Impressive stuff.
The methods of production for Comté haven't changed in centuries which means that it has a protected status of AOP - appellation origine protegée - which means the cheese has to pass strict standards to be able to declare itself a true Comté. Another peculiarity of this cheese is the fact that most production takes place at fruitières which are artisanal cooperatives. Don't be confused by the name, think of it more as a place where producers bring together the fruit of their hard work. Each one of these co-ops brings their own identity and flavor to Comté thanks to their individual working styles. The rich and unique flavor of this cheese certainly comes from the rich mountain pastures that the cows live on in this area as well as the seasons which lend a distinctive edge to Comté throughout the year.
Just so you know how serious the producers are about making the perfect Comté, each wheel is given a mark out of 20 and a mark less than 12 means the wheel is not allowed to bear AOP status. This is a system not to be messed with!
We recommend tasting Comté at different stages in the aging process (12, 24, 36 months - you can even find 48-month aged if you are really keen!) to fully understand the incredible evolution of the cheese - from sweet and mellow to rich, strong and salty. There are so many flavor subtleties in this cheese depending on which you buy, but you'll find that buttery, creamy and nutty flavors are always there.
Like it's fellow cheese Morbier, Comté has a pale exterior which opens onto a pale and firmly-textured cheese on the inside. Depending on how it has been aged you might find a grainier texture with little salt spots on the older ones - certainly nothing to be put off by! This is such a versatile cheese that it can be used in all types of cooking because it combines well in sauces and the unique flavor profiles add a little je-ne-sais-quoi to any dish! But at the end of the day this is still our favorite cheese to have on our plateau de fromage: it's a gorgeous crowd pleaser which can't be beat!
And because no cheese board could be complete without a glass of wine, you'll be happy to know that Comté pairs well with both red AND white wines! Hallelujah! We recommend wines from the nearby Jura region, and if you're sampling a more mature product then you can't go wrong with a hearty red Burgundy or Bordeaux. Champagne works too - don't mind if we do!