France is famous for its delicious artisan cheeses, but did you know that some French cheeses may be in danger of becoming extinct?
We’re sure most people will need little persuasion to rally to such a tasty cause, and if you want to help protect French cheese from extinction, where better to start than Comté, one of the first cheeses to be protected by the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)?
What is Comté cheese?
Comté is a pressed semi-hard cheese from the Franche-Comté region of Eastern France, on the Swiss border. It has a dusty brown rind with a pale, creamy interior, and a mild, slightly sweet flavour.
Comté was granted AOC status in 1952, which means that only cheeses from within a designated area, and that meet a set of strict criteria are permitted to be called Comté. As of 2005 there were 175 registered producers and 188 affineurs, or agers. Most Comté is made in small village fruitières or dairies using much the same production methods as hundreds of years ago, although it is often sent on to large dairy companies to be aged in industrial cellars.
The production of Comté is strictly controlled by the AOC. Among other criteria, it must be made using fresh milk from Montbéliarde or French Simmental cows, or cross-breeds of the two. The cows must be fed only fresh, natural feed, and there should be no more than 1.3 cows per hectare of pasture. It is classed as a Swiss-type or Alpine cheese, because it originates from the area close to the Swiss border, and it owes a part of its distinct flavour to the local environment, or terroir.
The flavour of Comté is mild but complex, with both fruity and savoury notes and aromas of roasted hazelnuts and caramelised butter. Like many Swiss-type cheeses, it is particularly good for melting, and tastes delicious in fondues and raclettes.
Nutritional facts and benefits of Comté cheese
Like most cheeses, Comté is a good source of protein and calcium, with a 30g serving containing 21% of your recommended daily intake of calcium. It also contains all of the ‘essential’ amino acids, which are not made in sufficient quantities by the human body, but carry out vital functions such as cell construction, facilitating immune function and healing body tissue.
However, Comté is also relatively high in calories, at 129 calories per 30g serving. The same portion size also contains 14% of your recommended daily intake of fat, and 13% of your recommended daily intake of cholesterol. Both fat and cholesterol are necessary in small amounts, so enjoying Comté in moderation is fine, but be careful not to overdo it, as too much of either can lead to health problems. You should avoid Comté if following a vegetarian diet, however, as it contains animal rennet.
Different types of French cheese
There are a truly impressive number of French cheeses, and far too many to list here. For a comprehensive list, take a look at Wikipedia’s list of French cheeses. Cheese-making is an intrinsic part of French culture, with every region having its own iconic cheese.
French cheeses are made using cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk, and can be divided into three main families, as follows:
Pressed cheeses, or hard cheeses are typically made of cow’s milk, and are pressed to remove most of the liquid during production. They come in large wheels, from which you can buy small slices. There are ‘cooked’ cheeses, which are heated during production, and ‘uncooked’ cheeses, which are not. Examples of French pressed cheese include Comté and Emmental.
Soft cheeses are extremely popular in France, with hundreds of different varieties. Popular varieties include Brie and Camembert.
Blue or bleu cheeses are made with cultures of the mould Penicillium, which gives them their characteristic blue or green veins. They have a sharp, salty flavour, and a pungent smell, which is caused either by the mould, or various specially cultivated bacteria. Popular French blue cheeses include Bleu d’Auvergne and Roquefort.
To discover more about some of the best French cheeses, take a look at this rundown of 21 French cheeses you should try at least once from France Hotel Guide.
Comté is the perfect choice for melted cheese dishes like raclette and fondue, and it can also be used in a variety of other ways. If you want to try some Comté at home, why not take inspiration from one of these mouthwatering recipes?
For an easy family meal with real wow factor, try this simple but delicious Comté chicken recipe from Great British Chefs. Your family will love the rich, savoury sauce, made with chicken stock, cream, white wine and Comté.
The perfect light lunch or supper, this French leek quiche with Comté cheese by Del’s Cooking Twist uses leeks and Comté cheese for a gourmet take on a classic quiche.
For more Comté recipes, including an irresistibly flaky onion tart with apples, bacon and Comté, a light and creamy linguine with broccoli in a Comté and thyme sauce, and a decadently delicious Comté, banana and vanilla tarte tatin, take a look at these three Comté cheese recipes for the weekend from French Waterways.