Thursday, May 31, 2018

French Cheese: Comté

Ah, the confusing world of Gruyère! It seems, and that verb is the best to use in the realm of perplexity in which such a venerable cheese finds itself, Gruyère is a cheese made in the eponymous town in Switzerland. Simple, you say? Get ready for a wave of undulating nuance. A similar cheese made in France is called the same name. Additionally there are several French cheeses that are considered to be Gruyère but have different appellations like Beaufort, Emmental, and the subject of this post, the gorgeous and glorious Comté, one of the finest cheeses in the world. Being a mountain cheese, and since salt was not the easiest commodity to drag up steep inclines, it was used sparingly. Because of less salt its meltability increased. Comté's versatility will cheer up a cheese platter as well as dishes like fondue, croque-monsieur (grilled cheese), and savoury tarts.


There are two grades, the brown label which denotes possible holes and the green label which means that the texture will be more smooth. The latter is preferred for cheese platters. The affinage is rather broad and can be anywhere between a minimum of 4 months to 18 and longer. My beauty is aged twenty months and has the green label so I am going to use it on platters besides cooking with it.


Based on the age, I am guessing that the cows whose milk produced it did not dine on summer pastures. If they did, the colour would be more golden because of the higher carotene content.


When first moving here all those years ago, I sampled a bit of Comté on a platter presented by our dinner host. The other cheeses were way more impressive to my tastebuds and from that time on, I got my hands on every other French cheese I could. My conjecture is that our host must have served a less aged version, because when I tasted some the other day, I was impressed to an embarrassingly degree. What degree would that be, you ask? I climbed up on our roof and yelled, Eat aged Comté. Now. Please. Thank you. (Note to The Calm One: our roof badly needs repairs.) The flavour hovers between tangy and sweet tinged with caramel, and I mean hover, you're never quite sure which of those two tastes will dominate, keeping your palate awake. The texture is similar to the richest nougat, unctuous beyond belief with a touch of gooeyness before giving way to an umami cloud pervading every nook and cranny of my very fortunate mouth. It is essential to bring the cheese to room temperature to get the full sensory experience.


Spying some leftover pastry dough along with several leeks and crème fraîche in the fridge, I created Comté Crème Fraîche Leek Pastry Bites to celebrate the serendipity of having those ingredients at my fingertips.


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Slice leeks lengthwise almost but not cutting through the root end. Splay the leek layers while rinsing under water to get any dirt or sand out. Slice thinly, discarding the root. Gently saute with a bit of butter and water in a covered skillet for about five to ten minutes till translucent and soft. Put just enough crème fraîche along with the leeks in a bowl in order to use a stick mixer to get a rough blend. Salt to taste.


While the leeks are simmering, roll out dough and cut into five-centimetre (two-inch) circles. Pierce with the tines of a fork to prevent puffing up during baking. Bake about ten minutes. Remove and switch oven to broil function.


Put a dollop of leek mixture on each round.


Top with a small square of Comté, squishing it into the tiny mound of leek puree.


Broil for just about a minute, fairly close to the heat. Remember Comté melts fast. The smokiness of aged Comté finds its match with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Such a pairing made for a lovely late supper. Their small size allows an easy pop into the mouth without crumbs so they would be great for stand-up buffets. They could be put together ahead of time and then placed under the broiler when needed. Small rich crackers mostly likely would be a fine substitute for pastry.


À la prochaine!

OTHER FRENCH CHEESE POSTS

Coulommiers 

Pont-l'Évêque

Maroilles

Reblochon
Bleu d'Auvergne
Cantal
Bresse Bleu


RELATED LINKS

Comté flavor wheel & wine pairing infographic
Basic Information on Comté 
Two part article by David Leibovitz regarding his visits to 1) Comté  fruitiéres and 2) ripening caves