Friday, June 25, 2010

Comte-A Brief History

This week our featured cheese is Comte in honor of our friends at Essex St. Cheese Co. and Fort San Antoine that visited us yesterday. Essex St. Cheese Co. has a fantastic video on how they select Comte. Although the number of wheels has changed, the process remains the same. Definitely worth a look.

Comte is truly one of the ancient cheeses in our case. Not in age, but in it's rich history. The cheese dates back to 1200 A.D. This cheese has never been associated with one specific cheesemaker but is attributed to a region. Today there are 160 cooperatives that are authorized by the region to make Comte. Comte-not Brie- is the most popular cheese in France.

With 160 places making this cheese the quality variation between wheels can be huge. What quality level do we get here at Pastoral and how do we select the cheeses we want to carry?

There are two key players that allow us to represent what we feel is the absolute best Comte being made today. In France it is the Marcel Petit from Fort San Antoine. He has dedicated his life to the affinage (caring and aging) of Comte. Marcel Petit ages cheese in two places, one is a standard aging facility and the other is at the Fort. the fort was built in the late 1800's and is a fantastic place where over 90,000 wheels of Comte are maturing.

From the cooperatives Marcel Petit works with thirty-five, of these thirty-five, only eighteen have made it into the Fort. From these eighteen our Comte typically comes from from a variety of only five cooperatives. when it comes to the Comte in our case we don't focus on a particular age, but rather on a flavor profile. Every cheese (usually aged 14-18 months) develops differently but the general flavor profile that we are going for is depth and complexity.

At room temperature the cheese has a sweetness from the milk that plays out on the palate as a balance between hazelnuts and red berries. The finish is grand, the flavors expand in your mouth and really give you a grassiness in the lingering finish. Depending on what time of year the cheese was made, Comte can also take a turn towards the earthier side and have more savory notes with touches of hay and slightly more salt.

The second person directly involved in our Comte selections is Daphne Zepos from Essex Street Cheese Company. Daphne has worked in the cheese world for years and is our selector of Comte for all three of our stores. By focusing on just a few cheeses that she imports-at last count, it was five-her selection process is meticulous and uncompromising. She knows what we are looking for in a cheese, and that once here at Pastoral that we will do the utmost to care for and respect his historic cheese.

Jamie suggests the Acustic Blanc from just south of Barcelona in Spain, made from Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, Pansal and Macabeo grapes. The vines that the grapes come from for this wine are 35-80 years old and organic. The winemaker has intentially left the organic label off of his bottles because he feels that the wine should speak for itself.

The wine has excellent concentrated tree fruit aromas, a pleasant spiciness and a great minerality that shines through. It is full bodied with a silky mouth-feel which makes it a great companion for Comte.

Happy Pairing and Happy Pride!