Comté, s’il vous plaît

The Comté Cheese Association has invited me to come by for a visit. This will be my first visit to this land of cheese royalty so I am particularly excited; this mountainous region is home to heavenly cheese. The name is virtually synonymous with “fromage;” Comté is what many Frenchmen think of when they think of cheese. Were we that lucky!

Edward Behr, publisher of the excellent the Art of Eating called me down for not including Comté in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. This was a gross oversight of course. Maybe I took Comté for granted; the flavors may be quite familiar if it is a cheese that has been widely imitated. Yet if you close your eyes and take in all that a morsel of Comté can deliver, those flavors and aromas can resonate distinctly, delicious all the way through to the “finish.” Each wheel is unique, which is part of the beauty of this cheese – it would be difficult to ignore the differences among wheels of Comté, some more subtle than others. These variations make it a little difficult to generalize about what kinds of wines work with Comté; then again it also makes it a little easier to recommend a wine: try any of your favorite wines and see what happens when you pair it with Comté.

I recall experiencing more successes with white wines, more than reds, with Comté. I believe this is due to the many flavor/aroma dimensions of Comté; elevated tannins in the red wines can be a bit fussy with all that complexity. The white wines can be a little more tolerant of those layers of flavor; the tannins do not get in the way.

Comté is used extensively in cooking, able to add a profound accent on many dishes. The cheese can be enjoyed on its own, which is the way I have had Comté most every time. I recall seeing an older woman walking up to a cheese stall in a market in Nice. The fromagère knew exactly what her customer wanted – 100 grams of a young Comté. Today, many cheese lovers have acquired a taste for the more aged versions; the younger cheeses may seem to lack that “wow” factor.

On another occasion I witnessed a couple of Bordeaux wine makers snacking on Comté and fresh baguette. They were not having a glass of their lovely red Bordeaux with the cheese and bread; these two young ladies were having a soft drink instead. I thought it would have been lovely to see how the cheese and wine paired, right there by the vineyard. Then again it was early afternoon.

The A.O.C. rules define Comté rather strictly; the production rules are some of the strictest ones of France. You might think that they would all taste the same. It is precisely those rules that help give wheels of Comté their uncompromised and rather individual signatures.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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