From Rich Pastures to the Cheeseboard – Discovering how Comté cheese is made in the unique Jura Massif region of Alpine France
Comté – The cheese with a 100 year long history
After a 2 mile walk over rough, lush pasture beneath the beating heat of the late summer sun, we finally arrive at one of the final meadows…..
……today’s title is indeed a tale of From Rich Pastures to the Cheeseboard, in the pursuit of where Comté cheese originates from and is still made.
I am walking alongside Marie-Anges Roy, a Comté dairy farmer, who is taking me down to where her herd of cows have been grazing all day, so we can bring them back to be milked.
I am part of a small press group from the UK who is visiting the region, to discover where this delectable and iconic cheese orginates from, and to learn how it is made, aged, stored and served.
It’s a long hot walk, but we are rewarded with the sight of Marie-Anges’s beautiful herd of Montbéliarde dairy cows, who are waiting for her by the gate.
There is the gentle buzz of insects, and the melodic sound of cow bells, it’s like a cameo from Heidi or The Sound of Music!
We start to walk back with the cows, they are slow and ponderous as they walk with full udders, and as we near the milking parlour, they start to speed up and jostle for position.
The milking parlour is quiet as Marie-Anges silently walks up and down the rows, cleaning the cow’s teats before attaching the milking teat-cups.
A Cheese made with Passion
Earlier on in the day, we had all walked around her farm, to see the calves and to listen to her talk with passion about her job as female dairy farmer.
We had already bene intriduced to the history and production of Comté cheese at La Maison du Comté, before a simply stunning lunch at Le Bouchon du Château in Château-Chalon.
It was at La Maison du Comté where we had our first degustation of this delectable cheese, as well as learn about the very unique Co-Operative system of milk, cheese makers and the ageing cellars** that makes Comté cheese so special.
Comté’s methods of production are still based on the original co-operative approach and artisan traditions that it was founded on over 1,000 years ago.
**farmers, fruitières & affineurs
Terroir and Affinage
Each day, Comté cheese is made in 153 small village cheese dairies known as fruitières. Often situated in the heart of the village, each fruitière continues to receive milk from dedicated dairy farms situated within an 8 mile radius to guarantee its absolute freshness.
The freshly made wheels are then ripened for a few weeks before being moved to one of the 16 maturing cellars.
Here the affineurs look after them for 4 to 18 months or more; regularly turning, salting and rubbing each one with brine solution.
We visited two ageing cellars, one in the cheese shop, Fromagerie JANIN, and then in a large dedicated maturing cellar, Fort des Rousses aging cellar in Les Rousses.
A Raw Milk Cheese with NO additives
To preserve and keep the cheese’s special taste and texture, the exclusion of additives and colourings at any stage of the process still applies today, as do strict rules preventing changes in the milk production.
The average maturing period for a round of Comté is eight months. The maturing period ranges from four months (the legal minimum) to twelve, fifteen, eighteen or even twenty-four months.
Each wheel of Comté cheese is about 40 kilos, with a diameter of 60cm, so it is a very large cheese! Another interesting fact, is that you need 450 litres of milk to make one 40 kg round.
A Montbéliarde cow produces about 20 litres at two milkings, so 23 cows are needed to produce one round of Comté cheese.
A Cheese with AOC and AOP
It was evident as we travelled around the region, that there was a huge amount of passion and hardwork that goes into making this wonderful cheese.
There is local pride in everyone who is involved, from the farmers, the cheesemakers and the affineurs. Futhermore, Comté has enjoyed Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status vsince 1958.
Plus, the community protection brought by Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) since 1996. Of all the French AOP cheeses, Comté is produced in the largest quantities (about 1,250,000 rounds every year)
We enjoyed many tastings throughout our press trip, the different types of aged Comté cheese and their special characteristics I will share below.
Comté Ages and Characteristics
Comté is sold as Doux, (sweet/young) Fruité, (fruity), Vieux (old) and Très Vieux (very old). There is also Comté exceptionnel, which we saw being aged in the cellars of Fromagerie JANIN, which is 60 months + old.
Here are the ages of the most popular ones, as sold in the UK:
- Doux, (sweet/young) = 4 to 12 months. Lactic flavours of butter and yoghurt.
- Fruité, (fruity) = 12 to 16 months. Fruity with hints of nuts and mild spices.
- Vieux (old) = 30 months. Very nutty with brown butter flavours and an almost unami taste.
- Très Vieux (very old) = 36 months. Grainy and crumblier with distinct flavours of burnt sugar and nuts.
Dégustation et Cuisine
Comté is delicious eaten by itself with a glass of wine, but it’s also a fabulous cooking and baking cheese too.
I have a couple of recipes using Comté cheese on Lavender & Lovage, which I will sgare below. We enjoyed several dégustations, as well as some fabulous Comté menus in our hotel Le Domaine du Revermont, and the restaurants we visited.
And, on our last evening, we had the full version of an Alpine Fondue, Jura style, made with Comté at Hotel Restaurant Arbez Franco-Suisse in Les Rousses.
We ended our rather special cheesy press trip where we started in Geneva, which is just an hour and a half away from ther Jura Massif.
Armed with two very large blocks of Comté cheese, bags, aprons, cookbooks and other Comté epehemera!
So, please DO look out for lots of Comté cheese recipes in the coming weeks and months – with some special reicpes for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Comté Cheese Recipes
- Comté Cheese Recipes
- Cheese & Shallot Puff Pastry Plait
- Eight Grain Cheese & Onion Sourdough Wreath
- Garlic Bread Cheese Toastie (Grilled Cheese)
- Three Cheese Fougasse
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