Have you ever raided the drinks cabinet desperately trying to find a drink to pair with your cheese? We all assume that alcohols like a robust red wine, a fruity white, a rich aged port perhaps? and no doubt these are fantastic partners for cheese, partners in crime if you will, there are many other alcoholic drinks that are unlikely partners to cheese and last week, I attended an event all about pairing Comté cheese with some pleasant and some rather unusual drinks.
The evening was held at the Camden Grocer, a fantastic new foodie venue within Camden Market. We were privileged to have Patrick McGuigan, an acclaimed food journalist and cheese writer who contributes to titles including the Telegraph, Financial Times and Harrod’s Magazine and Restaurant among many others and has recently returned from The World Cheese Awards in Bergen. He was here to talk all things Comté, his passion is clear to see. Also, there on hand to offer cheesy recommendations was Rhuaridh from the fabulous Buchanan’s Cheese.
The evening kicked off with a welcome drink of Crement Sparkling Chardonnay, this one is from the Jura region which is in fact where Comté is made. It’s won numerous awards and sells at Aldi for a very affordable £8.29, an absolute steal compared to Champagne which is made much in the same way. We enjoyed this delicious sparkler with sticks of 6-month Comté, its delicate creamy nature was the perfect match.
Taking our seats at the very festive looking table, we were presented with a plate of 5 generous sticks of different aged Comté, plates of nibbles such as almonds and gherkins to soak up all the booze we were going to enjoy. Patrick started by telling us all about the Comté cheese making process, this was my second visit as part of a press invite in collaboration with Comté Cheese UK and I was very happy to hear more about how this lovely cheese is made.
Comté is made in the picturesque Jura Massif region of Eastern France with its rolling hills and lush green grass which produces the complexity of flavours depending on what time of year the cows graze; sometimes earthy and nutty and fresh and fruity. It’s a complex cheese making process which dates back centuries. Farms must be located within an 8-mile radius to the dairies, the milk used to make Comté must be raw unpasteurised milk and usually from two types of dairy cow, the Montbeliarde and Simmental.
A single wheel of cheese can weigh up to 40kg, Patrick showing off his strength holding one very effortlessly, seriously, this one is just for display purposes only made from card! Comté is stored in a maturing cellar for anything from 4 to 30 months to attain its full range of flavours and lovingly looked after by cheese affiners. 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.
With our plate of different aged Comté in front of us, we started off with the youngest which was a 12-month aged cheese which we paired with a St Louis Dry Hopped Cider from Devon’s Sandford Orchards. The cider was unlike any that I’ve ever had before, it was fruity to the point of being quite heady and I could taste notes of pineapple when combined with the creamy 12-month Comté.
The second stick was again a 12-month-old Comté paired this time with Xeco Fino Sherry, a dry sherry with an alcoholic content of 15%, pale like straw in colour and perfectly chilled which is just how I like my sherry. Its from the famous Jerez region in Andalucia Spain, it was perfect and brought out for me, quite meaty notes in the cheese, I could taste bacon. The idea is to sip your drink slowly while nibbling on the cheese rather than having both separately.
Our next tipple was Sake, I was quite surprised to see Sake featuring in the selection of drinks but although not my favourite, it complimented the 18-month Comté perfectly with flavours of savoury nuts. Sake proved to be quite popular with everyone. Here’s where business really starts for me, the older Comté’s with the robust sweet wines, the first was 20-year-old Taylor’s Tawny Port which was a real match for the second of our 18-month Comté. The rich, punchy jammy Port was heaven teamed with the cheese, my taste buds were singing and picking up notes of earthy truffles.
I love super aged Comté and by a mile, the 30-month aged Comté paired with the stunning 6 O’ Clock Sloe Gin was sublime. Really aged Comté is crispy and nutty with its familiar salt crystals is a firm favourite in my family. The DamsonGin is packed with fruity flavour making it a perfect tipple for Christmas and your cheeseboard. The intensity of flavour from Comté this old makes it the perfect partner for sweet fortified and fruity wines, I was getting sensations of butterscotch and caramel, this combination was a culinary marriage made in heaven.
By now we had consumed mountains of Comté probably about half a kilo and copious amounts of alcohol, cracking our Christmas crackers, the evening got us in the Christmas spirit. Rhuaridh from Buchanan’s Cheese was on hand reinforcing what Patrick had said earlier about Comté cheese, his award-winning cheese shop in London has ranked in the top 5 of artisan cheesemongers, his philosophy is simple, sourcing good quality cheese, they can be found in Connaught Village in London W2, 10 minutes from Hyde Park and Marble Arch.
I was all cheesed out and max to the full of pure cheesy pleasure and a bit too much booze, but I had the best time. I hope you’ll source good quality Comté and alcoholic beverages for your Christmas cheeseboard.
Thank you to Megan from MBA and Comté Cheese UK for inviting me to this cheesy fest, all photo’s and opinions are my own.