All things cheese in France

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Since the 12th century deep in the Jura mountains where winters are long and harsh, local inhabitants have made the celebrated cheese - Comté, as a way to conserve their milk production.  Awarded its AOC in 1958, the fame of Comté, its economic importance for the area and terroir have become emblematic of the region of the Jura, parts of the Doubs and a small portion of Ain.  

Made exclusively from milk of the Montbéliard race, each cheese is awarded a score out of 20 according to overall appearance, quality of rind, internal appearance, texture and taste. Those scoring 15 or above are given green casein labels (with the characteristic image of a bell) and may be called 'Comté extra', those with 12-15 being given brown labels and simply called 'Comté'. Any cheese scoring under 3 marks for taste, or under 12 overall is prohibited from being named Comté.  Ageing is from 4 to 24 months with some famous affineurs such as Bernard Anthony holding out for the truly sublime at 36 and 48 months (with a price tag to match).

There is an incredible diversity of taste in Comté. Some are more salty than others, some are very sweet, very milky, others very rich roasted flavor, but always with subtle aromas for each bouquet. There are summer and winter Comté of course. The first is distinguished by its yellow pate and is much more intense than the second, which is pale ivory. The subtlety of flavors of a winter Comté are full of the smells of fresh hay while summer Comté is full of the scent of high meadows full of flowers and herbs.  There are six aroma families for this wonderful cheese:

Lactic : the smell of milk and various dairy products
Fruity : the smells of fruit and also of honey, and  floral odors.

Roasted empyreumatic : the word empyreumatic is from the Greek pyros meaning fire and these aromas are of caramelized, roasted milk.
Vegetal : the smells of  vegetables, fresh or dried plants, humus.
Animal : the smell related to egg yolk, leather and barnyards.
Spicy : the different smells of spices and flavours such as vanilla, nutmeg, pepper.

The nabob of food bloggers, David Lebovitz has penned two recent blogs on the making of Comté :  Comté Cheese Making and Comté Cheese Ripening and Tasting.  As always in his amusing and infectious style, he provides beautiful photographs and tons of information including how he flipped his car in the snow during his visit!  I highly recommend it as it is well worth reading.  

You can also check out the official website : Comté  In French but it has an English version. 

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