Comté is a cheese that I love a great deal and having just returned from Paris with mountains of cheese, one of which was a 24-month-old Comté, I was delighted to be invited to an evening of cheese tasting and cooking with Comté Cheese UK. The venue was L’atellier des Chefs in the City of London and I and a few like minded bloggers were attending a cookery class by British chef, Laura Pope as well as an informative talk on how Comté is produced.
Never being a massive cheese fan before, my tastes were limited to tame cheddar and other “flavourless” cheeses however my cheese-loving husband is rather obsessed with all manner of cheese, Comté being his favourite. It’s how I learnt to love a variety of cheeses and now, I’m a bit hooked. We were greeted with a glass of champagne and the most moorish appetiser, Comté fondue bites. Essentially, cubed pieces of stale bread dipped in an unctuous blend of melted Comté, butter and cream cheese folded with beaten egg whites which are then frozen and baked in a hot oven, divine.
Our host Jerome, a Comté connoisseur with many years invested in the cheese industry took us on a Comté journey talking about its origins, history and how it’s made. I had no idea it was such a complex process which dates back centuries. It’s made in the picturesque Jura Massif region of Eastern France where the villages and towns retain their medieval charm, the grass is lush and green cushioned by the rolling Jura mountain range to the south and the low range Vosges mountains to the North.
This region is home to 3,000 family-run farms whose purpose is to produce raw milk required to produce Comté. The rich pasture lends the most incredible taste to Comté depending on the time of year the cows graze from mild and buttery to rich and nutty, a pale straw-like coloured cheese is produced when the cows feed on hay. With a single wheel of cheese weighing up to 40 kg, Comté takes time to acquire its unique taste. Once the milk has been skimmed and pressed, it’s stored in a maturing cellar for anything from 4 to 24 months to attain its full range of complex flavours and aromas. Due to its distinctive nature and cultural value, Comté was awarded AOC status (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in 1958. This ensures that Comté follows stringent rules and requirements which guarantees the unique nature of this cheese. In 1996, it was further recognised being awarded AOP status (protected Origin Nomenclature) a prestigious award which recognises Comté’s reputation throughout the whole of Europe as well as in France.
It was certainly an informative half hour learning all about Comté and tasting the different aged Comté that Jerome brought with him which was enhanced with a glass or two of red and chilled white wine. I think my favourite must be the aged Comté with its unique crunchy salt crystals and nutty flavour. Comté can be found in all the major supermarkets but I prefer to buy from reputable cheesemongers where you’ll find a range of aged Comté and the opportunity to sample the cheese before you settle on your favourite.
The evening progressed to a cookery class with Laura Pope who talked about how to cook with Comté and using the cheese in a wide range of recipes. I asked Laura whether in her opinion it isn’t sacrilege to use expensive aged Comté in recipes? I am of the belief that 24-month-old Comté should only be enjoyed as part of a cheese course rather than “wasted” in a recipe but Laura very much believes that the complex spicy nutty flavours of an aged cheese lends itself to any recipe giving it depth of delicious flavour but a young more lactic mild Comté is ideal in a salad.
The first recipe she demonstrated was in fact a salad – a salad of Freekah (a roasted Middle-Eastern green wheat) with Comté, charred pears, cinnamon, rocket and toasted pecans. Making it look very simple and easy in her jovial and fun manner, we were then going to replicate this very delicious and appetising salad which quite easily feeds 3-4 people. We used ready-cooked Freekah which can be found in many supermarkets, the company Merchant Gourmet do this grain, it just saves on time especially if you’re making this salad after a long day at work. Laura used about 200g of medium aged Comté (12-14 months) which was cubed.
The pears were sliced in wedges with the skin on (remove if the skin is tough) tossed in olive oil, seasoning and cinnamon and then charred on a griddle pan until soft but not falling apart. Preparing the pears first gives them time to cool down after which they can be cubed but leaving 2-3 wedges for decoration. We then toasted the pecan nuts and roughly chopped them. A dressing using lemon juice, zest and olive oil was made with salt and plenty of pepper. It was time to assemble the salad by placing the Freekah in large bowl tossing it with the rocket, chopped pecans and pears and most of the cubed Comté followed by the zingy dressing and topped with the remaining pear wedges, pecans and Comté.
We got to enjoy our salad with more delicious wine before we were on to the next recipe which was Bubble & Squeak with melted aged Comté and cavolo nero. Again, a very simple dish to make because the mashed potato can be made before hand and stored in the fridge. The 18-24-month aged Comté really brings this dish to life and there was my answer as to why you can and most definitely should use aged Comté in dishes. It was an enjoyable evening learning all about Comté and making new friends and associates whilst enjoying the yummy food we had made as demonstrated by Laura Pope. All the recipes can be found on the ComtéCheeseUk website.
Below is my interpretation of the Comté Fondue Bites which I made over Easter and were devoured by my whole family in a matter of seconds, they were a great success!!Hunt out some aged Comté at farmer’s markets as I did yesterday when I was in Henley-on-Thames and cheesemongers such as PaxtonandWhitfield, I’m off to enjoy a small wedge of 24 month old Comté with my coffee.