If parmigiano reggiano is the king of cheese, then comte is the smooth-talking French viscount, draped in velvet and living in his mountain chateau. From shaving it over a radicchio salad to grating it over leek and mushrooms and baking it in pies, this cooked curd, raw milk cheese has a life of its own in the kitchen apart from starring on the cheeseboard.
What is it?
Comte is made in the mountainous French region of Jura from the milk of just two breeds of cow: French Simental and Montbeliarde. They can only eat grass in summer and hay in winter, and their delicate milk is trucked no more than 25 kilometres to the small factories.
Cheesemaking starts with raw milk inoculated with whey from the previous cheesemaking, ensuring a direct lineage of natural cultures. The milk sits at temperatures that allow the good bugs to thrive. The curd is cut, cooked at 55C, pressed into 32-45kg wheels, aged on wooden boards, and rubbed with a salty mixture called morge to encourage flavour-changing bacteria to develop the rind. It's then sent to affineurs, specialists whose job is to age the cheese between eight to 36 months at temperature and humidity to encourage more bacterial growth and development of texture.
So Frency, so quiche: Andrew McConnell's comte tart. Photo: William Meppem
Why do we love it?
"Everybody loves comte," says Anthony Femia from Maker and Monger at the Prahran Market in Melbourne. "It is a cheese that upholds its flavour when served on a cheese board or when melted in a midnight toastie. You only need a small piece to sate the palate and the brain."
How do you use it?
Get a decent-sized piece and put it on a cheeseboard with a ripe brie and soft blue, crackers, bread, and other essential condiments. What's left is perfect for cooking. During aging, the proteins in the milk break down into amino acids, some of which create that delicious umami sensation.
- Be like 14 Days of Cheese in Port Melbourne and fold it through bechamel to make golden croquettes.
- Grate it over croutons floating on a rich dark French onion soup like the kitchen at Macleay St Bistro in Potts Point.
- Bring out its earthy and spicy notes in a toastie like Scott Pickett's croque monsieur at South Yarra's Matilda made with smoked ham, smoked ketchup, and hot, liquid, stringy melted comte.
- A Microplane is the perfect tool to let comte spread its delicious wings as you grate it over salad, hot vegetables, savoury tarts, or something as simple as a boiled egg.
Where do you get it?
Go to a good cheese shop or specialist grocer like Harper and Blohm in Melbourne or Penny's Cheese Shop in Sydney who cut fresh from the wheel. Look for brands such as Marcel Petite, La Couronne, Symphonie, Charles Arnaud and Herve Mons. Age is not always a good indicator of quality. Generally, look for cheeses between 18-24 months, and try before you buy. Store comte wrapped in baking paper, cheese paper or waxed cloth in the fridge.
Send your culinary conundrums and ingredient suggestions to email@example.com or Twitter and Insta @foodcornish