Nutty flavours. An ivory golden colour. Comté PDO is no ordinary hard cheese. From its early origins of cooperative production to its recognition beyond the boundaries of its rural region, Comté has always distinguished itself amongst French cheeses.
From the 13th Century, Comté has been produced in ‘fruitières’. Based on a cooperative model, the fruitières are groups of producers who shared the milk collected on a daily basis to be transformed into cheese. The quantity of milk required to make Comté is important and producers don’t always produce sufficient amounts to make their own cheese. As well as providing production support, these daily meetings also acted as a social outlet for farmers who could otherwise find themselves rurally isolated.
One of the first fruitières was created in 1253 in Deservilliers, Doubs, at the heart of the Franche Comté region. Its official documents testify to the importance of Comté in the region, describing Deservilliers as the cheese’s birthplace.
Even outside of its region, Comté’s reputation is long standing. Official documents from the old ‘Halles Centrales de Paris’ – a Parisian market place where merchants from across the country came to sell their wares – shows that Comté’s price was significantly higher than other similar cheeses.
This cheese originates from the French historic region, Franche-Comté (now part of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté). It can only be produced in certain areas of this region, including the French departments Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône and parts of other neighbouring departments.
To produce Comté PDO, the milk used can only come from two local breeds: Montbéliarde and Pie rouge de l’Est. In addition, these cows should be fed fodder from fields in the defined geographical area. It can be complemented by fodder from outside this particular region, but not be the main source.
Once the milk is obtained, it should be put into tanks for the curding process as quickly as possible. The milk is heated and then pressed for a minimum of six hours.
The maturing process should last a minimum of 120 days, starting with the pre-maturing phase. During this time the wheels of cheese are salted and rubbed with cheese smear at least twice a week.
The wheel of Comté PDO ready to be consumed should weigh between 30 and 55 kilos, be of 50 to 70 cm diameter and a height of 8 to 13 cm. It should contain a minimum of 45 grams of fat for 100 grams of cheese. Its colour ranges from ivory to yellow, depending on the season it was produced in. Summer Comté PDO will have a more intense yellow colour, while the winter one will be lighter.