Cheese University (XIV): Comté


Comté

Here’s France’s no 1 cheese, you could call it staple food, 40 percent of the French population eat it regularly. Every year, almost 52.000 tons are produced, 175 small and large fabricants run the business, they deliver giant pieces of cheese 9 to 13 cm high, 40 to 70 cm diameter, weighing around 50 kilograms. The French cheese guide by Eyewitness Companions has it that it takes 530 litres of milk – the daily production of 30 cows – to make one of those delicious guys called

Comté

It’s a firm, sweet-and-salty cheese showing a yellowish, ivory-coloured pâte. Needless to say that it melts in the mouth and if you stumble upon a mature and perfectly affinated piece of it – you’ll encounter a delicacy second to none. It’s rich, it’s fat, it’s deeply satisfying, it’s made of raw cow’s milk only – and only local cow breeds (Montbéliarde and Pie Rouge de l’Est) are entitled to have their milk turned into Comté.

There’s a strict AOC regime in place since 1952, restricting the production to only a couple of French regions situated in the Franche-Comté region, parts of Burgundy, Lorraine, Champagne and Rhône-Alpes. Before going to the shelves, the cheese has to ripen for at least 120 days.

As you have already learnt here, hardly any French cheese comes without a long history and the same is true for the one and only Comté. Production started in the Middle Ages, at some point in the 11th century but Pliny, the Roman historian, already mentioned a cheese from the Jura mountain range quite similar to the Comté we know today. Check the official website for lots of more information, charts, photos, videos, you name it.

Producers run a rigid and quite unique quality-checking system, every cheese is graded on a scale of 1 to 20. The pieces are judged by five aspects – overall appearance, quality of rind, appearance of the cut, quality of pâte and quality of taste – and they have to achieve 12 points to pass. Cheeses with marks of 15 and higher are stamped with green casein labels. Five percent of the yearly production are sorted out due to quality problems, so they’re not kidding.

What to drink with it? Well, there’s no clear rules, as always. As often, I would suggest a not too sec white wine. If you have to drink red wine with your cheese then a Saumur-Champigny could give you an extra kick. And, given the fact that this cheese comes with dominant nutty flavours, even a Sherry Amontillado could make a good companion.

The video attached contains a lot of French blabla but then some nice black-and-white footing about Comté production.

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