Comté is truly the elder statesman of French cheese being one of the first styles to receive AOC status back in 1958. This unpasteurised cheese is not made in a traditional way, with a fromagerie producing or buying local milk and turning it into cheese themselves, but is similar to the Burgundian negociant method of wine production – essentially co-operative farming. There are around 170 dairy farms in the Jura-Massif region of the French Alps, and each can only process milk sourced from within an 8 mile radius of the dairy. Each individual dairy then makes its own cheese from this local milk, though still working collaboratively using the same traditional production methods. This means that every huge wheel of Comté will be slightly different, reflecting the individual terroir of the dairy where it is produced. Only once the cheese is made and ready for maturation is it sent to the incredible cellars of Marcel Petite and his team of affineurs. Here the cheese is aged in an old fort built into the side of the mountains until ready to release.
This is a Gruyere style of cheese, hard but with a smooth, buttery texture. Every wheel is slightly different, but will show classic rich, nutty flavours with a touch of caramel/ brown butter sweetness. Its ability to melt means that it can be used in many dishes, from a classic fondue to the perfect toasted sandwich.
COMTE FACT OF THE DAY...
The head of the cheese tasters who determine when each wheel of cheese is ready for sale is known as the chef de cave. This person spends their day ‘ringing’ the cheese – a ritual that involves stroking the cheese in a circular motion, assessing the crust and then tapping the cheese from the centre outwards with his cheese iron. Only after all this hard work do they get to taste it!