A Comte cheese tasting

Jan 06, 14 A Comte cheese tasting

Contributed by Anna von Bertele

“Taste can be compared to music: we hear music as a whole, but if we listen more carefully we can make out each particular instrument and every single note of the score … Let Comté, the traditional cheese made in the Jura massif, play its delicate music on the instruments of your senses.”

I had tried Comté cheese and knew of its legend but after attending a Comté cheese tasting at the great La Cave a Fromage in South Kensington, I now feel I really understand its uniqueness. Comté is made in the Jura massif, a region in France that I have only just become familiar with, having tasted some of the great wines that it produces. I was excited about exploring how the terroir in the area could also affect the cheese. Comté is made traditionally, with the production having barely changed in hundreds of years.

There are three main factors to this. Firstly, the farmer who is in charge of the special Jura cows. They are only fed on a diet of hay and grass to make sure their milk is pure and truly reflects the unique land. Secondly there is the cheese maker and finally the affixer, in charge of the maturing process. It is during this third stage, with great care and attention that the aromas grow richer. When the affiance is complete, the wheel is examined and graded out of twenty according to a scale that focuses on flavour and paste quality, shape and rind. It then gets its branded band around its circumference – green for a high score and brown for those between 12-15. A score lower than this means the cheese does not qualify.

We tried 5 different terroirs of the cheese, which ranged in different ages. It was interesting to taste cheese in a way more common of wine – first looking at it, then smelling it, before tasting it and focusing on its aroma and the sensations it caused in the mouth. I found out that not only does Comté change with age, but it also changes depending on the time of year when it’s made. It is made daily across 170 small village dairies called ‘fruitières’ – they only take milk from areas close to the dairy to ensure it is as fresh as possible. It is then aged for a minimum of four months before it is sold, though some are aged for much longer. I really liked an eight month old ‘La Baroche’ – pure and classic Comté taste of creamy, nutty deliciousness.

One of the most interesting was ‘La Russey’ a 16 month old cheese with fruity, more tropical aromas. It definitely had more flavour and had developed small crystals, which indicates age. As well as being delicious on its own it was also great with wine (we paired some with Burgundian wines at the end). My thanks to Clare, the cheese taster (what a great job!) The only bad thing about the tasting is now I want to keep eating it – time to start saving for some decent cheese!

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