Comté (pronounced con-tay) is one of the traditional raw cow’s milk cheeses of France. Lydia Burns, cheesemonger at Marion Street Cheese Market, came back from a European tour raving – with her characteristically articulate passion – about Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comté.
Like all fine cheeses, this Comté goes through the traditional process of “affinage” (the craft of finishing cheese and bringing out all its flavor potential) in Fort St. Antoine, an underground fortification in France, with thick walls and a cool climate, perfect for aging cheese.
There are several quality levels for Comte: green (the best), brown (good) and un-rated (not bad, probably, just not up to the standards for this type of cheese). Marion Street Cheese Market carries the green level, distributed by Essex St., and it is a beautifully simple expression of the cheesemaker’s art. Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comté does not whack you in the mouth with taste. Instead, it has subtle, long-lasting, rich and warm flavors that can stay with you for minutes after tasting.
A big part of this cheese’s taste comes from the quality of the milk, which Burns explains is very specific to the Jura region where this cheese is made. The Swiss honor their cows, and the milk from these cows plays a big part in the final quality of the cheese.
More low-key than even Gruyere, which it in some ways resembles, this cheese has “a buttery aroma, when you break it under your nose,’ Burns explains, and “a pronounced sweetness, kind of like a crème fraiche.”
What Burns describes as “brown butter and warm flavor” makes this a versatile cheese for pairing, and this buttery quality, analogous to malt, makes it an especially good match for malty beers like Domaine DuPage and India Brown Ale.
Trying this cheese in a few different ways, I was impressed by how well it melted, but it seems when it’s cooked, it loses all its texture and even some of its flavor: I prefer it simply sliced thin.
A cheese of this quality is not cheap (it’s closing in on $30/pound), but when you have a cheese this good, you don’t have to eat a lot to be fully satisfied.