The Comté, a word meaning ‘county’ in French, is made with unpasteurized cow’s milk that must be produced in Jura (Mountains in the East of France). The Comté is the first French cheese to have been given the seal of quality: AOC in 1958. This law was created to link the cheese and its method of production with a ‘terroir’, in this case the Jura Mountains; assuming that it is thanks to the incredible variety of flowers, and the characteristic flora of the Franche-Comté that makes this cheese’s wideness of aroma so special. Even the breed of the cows is essential. Only the famous Montbéliarde, a breed from the Jura Mountains, and the Simmental, can provide milk for the production of Comté. These mountains breeds are hardy and can withstand the frequent cold nights outside during the summer pastures. Most of the year, the cows are outside, grazing in these mountains, with at least one hectare of grazing per cow. And when the first snowfall appears, cows go back in the valley to eat only hay produced in the surrounding area. Today, the breeding is still extensive and it is one of the most important conditions to be able to make Comté.
Cows are milked two times a day and every day the milk is collected and transported to the site of production, called the fruitière. It is in these 190 little cheese factories of Jura village, that the milk is turned into Comté. The breeders pool the fruit of their labor otherwise, it would be impossible to produce the cheese as more than 450 liters of milk per day are needed to be able to produce Comté. Then, to acquire the right taste, the Comté is left and matures. Indeed, the cheese is left for several months in maturing cellars, at least four months but often between eight and ten and sometimes more than 18 months! These cellars host cheeses that come from different livestock or different fruitières. But experts say that you can easily recognize the origin of a Comté.
Finally, this cheese appears as a round, nearly 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) in diameter and 10 cm (3.9 inches) tall. One round of Comté weights between 30 and 48 kilograms (66lb to 105lb). This kind of appearance or way of production is typical of mountains areas. Indeed, during the Middle-Ages, these large wheels of cheese were a mean to store the abundant milk provided during the summer, in order to use it during the long and harsh winter, with heavy snowfall. Later, this way of preservation allowed breeders and cheese makers to sell their products, particularly the famous Comté, in big French cities; first in the closest, Lyon, then in Paris and finally in every part of France.
Today, in France, Comté can be eaten on its own or as an accompaniment; Comté can be eaten in every course, from appetizer to dessert! But one of the most famous mountain traditional recipes is the cheese fondue.
Comté Fondue from La Petite Echelle
This recipe comes from La Petite Echelle, a restaurant and inn located in the Jura Mountains of France. Dairy cows are also raised on the property for the production of Comté cheese. The restaurant serves traditional local dishes, and fondue is the highlight of the menu, made with Comté, local Jura wine, foraged mushrooms and mountain herbs.
- 1 pound mature Comté, grated
- 1 ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons Kirsch
- A few slices of wild mushrooms, such as Cèpes (optional)
- A few leaves of Asperula Odorata or other herbs such as tarragon or rosemary (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper and/or ground cumin (optional)
- Combine the grated Comté, wine and garlic in a fondue pot and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the cheese melts.
- In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and Kirsch.
- Once the cheese is melted, add the mushrooms for flavor (if using), along with a few leaves of fresh Asperula Odorata or herbs (if using). Stir in most of the cornstarch mixture and bring to a simmer. The fondue should be thick enough to richly coat the back of a spoon. If it’s too thin, add more of the cornstarch mixture until you reach the desired consistency. Season the fondue with freshly ground black pepper and/or a pinch of ground cumin, if desired.
- Serve the hot fondue with cubes of French bread for dipping
To learn more: www.comte-usa.com