Comté Cheese and Beer Tasting at La Cave á Fromage:
I’ve been eating Comté on a regular basis for several years. I love its complex nuttiness (takes one to know one) but knew nothing of the 1000 year history or provenance of the cheese; so the opportunity to be taken through the varying ages of Comté by Patrick McGuigan from The Daily Telegraph with suitable beer pairings at one of London’s best cheese shops, was not one to be sniffed at.
On arrival we warmed up with some delicious goat’s cheese truffle canapés and tasty charcuterie paired with a wonderful Belgian style saison beer.
Brewed with champagne yeasts by the Ninkasi Wild beer co. in Somerset, it had that biscuity taste that you get from the Pinot Noir in champagne and was an effervescent way to start our journey.
Patrick explained that as with wine, cheese is linked to the land. Comté is only allowed to be made in the Jura mountains on the border with Switzerland. Conditions are sub-alpine and perfect for the Montbelliard cows who graze on the micro-flora, grasses,herbs and flowers at a density of 1hectare per cow. Small farms work together in cooperatives with 3000 small farms producing the milk then supplied to 170 Fruitiers (dairies) where the cheese is made.
Each wheel of Comté weighs 35-40 kilos using raw non-pasteurised milk giving a depth of flavour not possible in a more industrially produced cheese. The milk is poured into copper vats and then has a starter culture and rennet added to it. It is Warmed to 55 degrees the whey is then strained off and poured into moulds. These are sent to an affineuse (cheese maturer). There are seventeen affineuse in the Jura and it is their job to realise the potential of the cheese. The affineuse rub the cheeses with salt and then store them in caves on spruce shelves deciding at what age they would eat best. This can range from 4- 24 months. The cheeses are then graded out of 20. A mark of 15-20 gets a green label and is marked as ‘Extra’. A mark of 12-14 is standard and anything rated as less than a 12 can not be marketed as Comté. The winter milk creates a cheese different to the summer’s as the cattle are fed on hay which gives a nuttier flavour profile. Milk in the summer is richer flavoured and more golden in hue due to higher levels of carotene from the grass. And then it was time to start the tasting!
We began with a Harbour Pilsner, a classic Pilsner style from North Cornwall made with water from a spring on Bodmin Moor. It was a great match with the 10 month Comté which had a long aftertaste despite its relative youth because it had been made with raw milk.
Chiron, a beer from brewers Thornbridge, is an American style Pale Ale brewed with American hops in Bakewell Derbyshire. The beer has notes of lychee and resin which made for an interesting partnership with the winter milk 12 month Comté which was earthy, creamy and nutty in flavour.
Next up was the unpronounceable (by me) Cwtch, a Welsh red ale from brewer Tiny Rebel in Newport. Apparently Cwtch means cuddle in Welsh which may be something to do with the beer winning the accolade of best beer in UK 2015. Using new world hops it had a deep roasted, camarelised and malty profile. The 18 month Comté has a slight crunch from crystals of the amino acid tyrocene and this pairing was the best match for me.
The Siren craft brewer near Reading makes a malty red ale called Liquid Mistress. At 5.8% alcohol it is the colour of a dark Porter with a hint of treacle on the nose. The accompanying 24 month Comté also had the crystal crunch and an even richer depth of flavour-delicious.
Another take on the 24 month came from a different affineure and was very creamy. We paired it with a Bristol milk stout which had strong notes of chocolate and coffee. It’s called a milk stout because of the addition of lactose to stop the yeast from fermenting.
This was a lovely event. I hadn’t realised that there was a range of aged Comté cheeses available and the chance to explore those flavours with such great beers was a pleasurable education in very convivial surroundings. La Cave á Fromage is really worth a visit too if you are in the Kensington area with very friendly and knowledgable staff to was your cheese choosing!
La Cave á Fromage, 24-25 Cromwell Place, SW7 2LD London