Three years ago I was lucky enough to be taken to the Jura region of France to see where Comte cheese is made, and to meet some of the producers. It’s a trip I remember well because the food and wine were incredible, and the scenery was stunning. Fast forward three years and I was invited to another event by Comte to learn how to cook a few recipes that include this best of all cheeses. Not in France this time, but in a cookery school near St Paul’s in London.
Probably a good move on the part of Comte really as the last time I got involved with Comte, this happened:
We got to see the whole process of how Comte is made, from the milking of the cows, to the production of the cheese.
After that we went off for lunch to a restaurant called La Petite Echelle, (the spot where the photo at the top was taken) where we ate the most incredible rosti out in the garden. Do have a read of the blog post about this restaurant as it is one I won’t forget in a while.
A stunning location filled with scene after scene of mountains, lush green fields and grazing cows. It is the diversity of the grass, flowers and plants the cows eat over the summer, and the locally grown hay they feast on over the winter that ensures the cows produce the highest quality of milk which goes on to give Comte that gorgeous creamy texture.
The AOC regulations stipulate that each cow has at least a hectare of grazing land to ensure not the only the cow’s welfare but to also make sure the region is not “over farmed”. There are only 2,500 farms in the area and all of their milk is sent for processing to one of the 150 dairies within 24 hours so it really couldn’t be any fresher when it is made. The minimum age for the cheese to be eaten is four months and during that time it sits in a cheese cathedral maturing.
Stored as a whole wheel weighing up to 40Kgs it rests on a wooden shelf, with its rind regularly rubbed with salt and from where it is regularly turned.
I have always loved Comte and that trip really reignited my love of the cheese but I have never really thought to cook with it.
For me it was always the “must have on a cheese board”.
Or a “must purchase” when I am in a French Supermarket.
So why did it never occur to me to cook with it? I have no idea but the event in St Pauls really opened my eyes to how versatile a cheese it is and how well it works in so many dishes. Comte had arranged for a private chef called Laura Pope to develop some recipes for us to try out on the night, and to then take away with us to try at home. Heaven.
We started off the evening with some fondue bites and fizz. The fondue bites were pieces of bread dipped in melted Comte, cream cheese and egg white and then baked. They were amazing, and the perfect appetiser (though I had to stop myself eating the whole plate).
Then we were talked through a tasting of three different ages of the cheese to see if we could pick up on different flavours and textures as the cheese matures. You can tell just from the colour how different they are and the flavour change was extraordinary between the three pieces.
Comte have recognised 83 different flavours, and thankfully none of us were picking up the 8 in the animal category. I am not sure I want to taste “stable at milking time” but funnily enough I can imagine just what that tastes like!
After showing us how to make a freekeh, grilled pear, Comte, pecan and rocket salad it was our turn and having arrived with no idea what freekeh was I was loving it half an hour later (and the following day on the Waitrose website adding it to my basket). It is a cereal food made from unripened wheat which is used a lot in middle eastern cookery, and the great base for a salad.
I mean, seriously, how good does that look?! It was stunning, super healthy, and tasted incredible.
I had to dip out before Laura showed everybody how to make bubble and squeak with cavalo nero and, of course, Comte, as I needed to get home but it didn’t stop me having a go at home a few days later:
The photo above is possibly the least instagram worthy photo you will see this year but it was taken hurriedly because I was about to devour it.
Damn it was good.