Falling in love with Comté
You may find it hard to believe but cheese has never really been on my list of favourite foods. I cook with it but I’m not the sort of person that sneaks into the fridge to cut myself a slice. That was until I tried Comté…
The French Equivalent to Cheddar
A French hard mountain cheese, Comté has been produced by farming families in the Jura Massif region of eastern France for more than a thousand years. With an incredibly unique taste (fruity, nutty and peppery), as well a creamy texture and excellent melting properties, it’s well-suited for a variety of recipes. But, it’s also just as delicious on its own or with many red or white wines – including fizz.
A trio of artisans lovingly craft the Comté – dairy farmers, fromagers (cheesemakers) and affineurs (who age and refine the cheese) – each a master of their craft, following strict guidelines to ensure Comtés renowned character is preserved.
Despite a large scale of production (60,000 tonnes a year), traditional methods such as part-skimming the milk, curdling in copper vats and pressing the fresh cheeses to prepare them for their affinage are still used today.
Comté Cows – Wild & Free
Comté cows (which are exclusively from the Montbéliarde and French Simmental breeds) live a really good life too with each cow given two and a half acres to graze upon in the summer months – that’s more space than humans! It’s on these lush green hills that the cows feast on over 130 wildflowers and grasses, which contributes to the 83 distinct flavours that can be discovered in Comté cheese.
More impressively still, the cheese is made within 24 hours of milking the cows and the fromagers work only with milk from within an eight-mile radius of their fruitière to ensure the utmost freshness. I hope you’re starting to get a feel for how good this cheese is?
Comté Quality Control
The final stage in the craft is quality control and that’s a serious business. At one of the 16 ageing cellars in the region, the wheels of Comté are tested by the affineurs at various stages for appearance and taste and then ranked out of 20. Only those rated 12 or above can qualify to be called Comté. The cheese will stand here for anywhere between 4 to 18 months or more if required but on average for 8 months.
Cooking Better With Comté
My introduction to Comté came when I attended a seasonal cookery class hosted by Comté at Michel Roux’s Cookery School – Cactus Kitchens in Clapham. After a presentation all about Comté and some tasters of the 4, 12 and 18-month matured cheeses we made our way into the kitchens with chef Millie Simpson for a demonstration of the two dishes we would learn that evening.
Watercress, Beetroot & Fennel Salad with Comté
The first recipe we were taken through was a watercress, beetroot & fennel salad with our star ingredient, Comté. The dish was very light and fresh, with a zingy punch to wake up the tastebuds. To complete, crostinis topped with a vibrant pesto (homemade with Comté instead of the traditional Parmesan). The recipe was a breeze to follow as well as lovely and quick. And, as is almost always the way when you make something from scratch – heightened in flavour from the creation of fresh pesto. You just can’t match that with something out of a jar. It’s the perfect summer salad or starter to a dinner party being that you can prep it well ahead and just serve when guests arrive and there’s still plenty of room for the main course. Find the full recipe here.
Butternut Squash, Sage & Comté Risotto
The second recipe involved a little more work and was something I’d never cooked before, owing to my assumption that a risotto is a tricky dish the nail. The truth is it’s not, just as long as you stay patient, building up the flavour of the risotto slowly, adding the stock little by little and continuously stirring over the 25-30 minutes it takes to cook.
The other essential ingredient for success is a good homemade stock. Millie urged us not to use stock cubes because they produce an over seasoned, flat flavour. Instead, it’s best to make your own or, if you have to, buy a decent quality, fresh chicken or vegetable stock from a shop.
The combination of the sweet butternut paired with fresh sage and salty, nutty mature Comté mixed together with the creamy risotto produced an absolutely stunning dish that evening and it’s a recipe I’ve already recreated since my lesson. Even the next day reheated in the microwave it was delicious. Find the full recipe here.
Comté’s strapline is: “everything is better with Comté” and having now experimented with the cheese in various ways, I find myself having to agree. What do you think? Is everything better with cheese? And if so, what’s your favourite type of cheese?
*Disclosure: Comté invited me to the cookery school for the event but as always, my thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.