What is Comte

The History of Comté Cheese

Origins and Development

Comté cheese, a cornerstone of French gastronomy, has a rich history that dates back to the 12th century. Originating from the Jura Massif region in eastern France, particularly in the departments of Jura, Doubs, and Ain, Comté was initially crafted as a means of preserving milk and facilitating its transportation across the rugged terrain. This cheese is a type of Gruyère, known for its production in cooperatives called “fruitières,” which were first established in the 13th century.

Production Techniques

The traditional methods of producing Comté have been carefully preserved and passed down through generations. The process begins with raw cow’s milk from Montbéliard and Simmental breeds of cows. The milk is heated and then curdled using rennet. The curds are pressed into wheels and aged on spruce wood shelves. Comté cheese is renowned for its strict adherence to natural processes, without any additives or fermented colorings.

AOC and PDO Status

In 1958, Comté earned the French “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC) status, acknowledging its unique regional characteristics. It was further recognized in 1996 under the European “Protected Designation of Origin” (PDO), which mandates that genuine Comté can only be produced within the designated areas using specified methods.

Age Profiles of Comté Cheese

Comté cheese is known for its various age profiles, each offering distinct flavors and textures:

  • Young Comté (4-6 months): This version is creamy and mild with a slightly nutty flavor.
  • Middle-aged Comté (12-18 months): As it matures, it develops a more pronounced fruity and nutty taste with a firmer texture.
  • Old Comté (24 months or more): With the longest aging, it becomes denser and exhibits a complex flavor profile including hints of caramel and a deeper nuttiness.

Comté Cheese in America

Introduction and Growth

Comté was introduced to the United States primarily through gourmet and specialty food stores. Over the years, its presence has grown significantly due to increasing consumer interest in artisan and specialty cheeses. Today, Comté is widely available across America, from upscale restaurants to mainstream supermarkets.

Cultural Impact

In America, Comté is often used in a variety of culinary contexts, from cheese platters and sandwiches to sophisticated dishes like fondue and gratins. Its versatility and rich flavor profile have made it a favorite among American cheese lovers.

Current Trends

The American market has shown a growing appreciation for aged, high-quality cheeses, which has boosted the popularity of premium variants of Comté. There is also an increasing trend towards organic and sustainably produced foods, aligning well with the traditional methods used in Comté production.


Comté cheese exemplifies a perfect blend of rich history, traditional craftsmanship, and enduring popularity. As it continues to be cherished in its native France and embraced abroad, Comté stands as a symbol of culinary heritage and quality, transcending borders and generations. Its story is not just about a cheese, but about the community and the sustainable practices that have sustained it through centuries.

Tasting Notes

Here is a detailed table of tasting notes for Comté cheese, organized under specific categories for a comprehensive understanding of its sensory characteristics:

CategoryTasting Notes
Body and TextureFirm but supple; creamy to grainy depending on age; smooth with occasional crystal formation
Notes on the Five Tastes1. Savouriness/Umami: Rich and pronounced, especially in older cheeses
2. Saltiness: Moderate, enhances other flavors
3. Sweetness: Mild, often reminiscent of caramel, particularly in aged variants
4. Acidity/Sourness: Slight, more noticeable in younger cheeses
5. Bitterness: Very minimal, sometimes apparent in the finish of aged cheeses
Dairy FlavoursFresh cream, buttery with hints of milk
Notable Details on Other FlavoursNutty (hazelnut, almond), fruity (apple, pear), and sometimes herbal or vegetal undertones
Flavours Arising from AgingIncreased nuttiness and complexity, development of caramel notes, occasional tyrosine crystals imparting a slight crunch

This table highlights the nuanced profile of Comté cheese, reflecting how its flavor complexity deepens with age, offering a rich sensory experience that varies significantly from young to well-aged versions.

How is it made

Here are the key distinguishing features of how Comté cheese is traditionally made and matured, highlighted in bullet points:

  • Origin of Milk: The milk used for Comté must come exclusively from Montbéliard and French Simmental cows, which are grazed on the rich pastures of the Jura Massif region.
  • Daily Production: Milk must be processed within 24 hours of milking to ensure freshness. It is used raw and not pasteurized, maintaining the natural flora that influences the cheese’s flavor.
  • Copper Vats: The milk is heated in large copper vats which contribute to the development of the cheese’s flavor profile.
  • Natural Rennet: Comté cheese production uses natural rennet for coagulation, a crucial factor in forming the curds that become cheese.
  • Pressing and Molding: After curdling, the curds are cut, cooked, and then pressed into large molds. Each wheel is marked with a casein label containing a unique identification number.
  • Salting: Wheels are soaked in a brine solution to absorb salt, which aids in flavor and preservation.
  • Aging: Comté is aged on spruce wood shelves, which impart additional flavor. The aging period ranges from a minimum of four months to several years, with some cheeses maturing for over 24 months.
  • Affinage Care: Throughout the aging process, the cheeses are regularly turned, brushed, and rubbed with salted water by an affineur (cheese ager), enhancing flavor development and maintaining the rind.
  • Quality Control: Each wheel of Comté is graded by an expert panel before it can be sold under the Comté name. The wheels are scored on a scale of 20, and those that score below 12 are not allowed to be sold as Comté.

These steps reflect the careful, traditional practices that are central to the production of Comté, ensuring its consistent quality and unique characteristics.

Different styles

Below is a comparative table detailing the look, texture, taste, and flavor of Comté cheese across different age profiles:

Age ProfileLookTextureTasteFlavour
Young Comté (4-6 months)Pale yellow with a smooth rindCreamy, soft, and somewhat elasticMild with a slight tangDelicate hints of milk and cream, with subtle notes of butter and hazelnuts
Middle-aged Comté (12-18 months)Brighter yellow with a firmer rindFirmer texture, becoming slightly granularRicher with a good balance of sweetness and umamiEnhanced nutty flavors, with emerging notes of fruits like apple and pear
Old Comté (24+ months)Dark golden yellow with a thicker, textured rindHard and dense, may have crystalline depositsStrong, bold, and complex, with a distinct umami presenceIntense flavors of caramel, roasted nuts, and spices, with a long finish

This table showcases how Comté cheese evolves in terms of appearance, texture, and flavor as it ages, offering a diverse range of sensory experiences.

Compare with other cheeses

Here’s a comparative table that details Comté alongside several other important Swiss and Alpine-style cheeses from different regions, focusing on their visual characteristics, flavor, and texture:

ComtéFrance (Jura Massif)Golden yellow, smooth to textured rindCreamy to hard, depending on age; can have crystalline deposits in older cheesesNutty, fruity, with notes of caramel in aged versions; rich and complex
GruyèreSwitzerlandPale cream to yellow, smooth rindDense and slightly grainy; becomes more flaky with ageSweet but slightly salty, with complex nutty and sometimes earthy undertones
EmmentalSwitzerlandPale yellow, characteristic large holesSmooth, firm, slightly elasticMild, slightly nutty, with a hint of sweetness; becomes sharper with age
BeaufortFrance (Savoie)Bright yellow, smooth rindDense, firm, smoother than Comté, creamySweet, buttery, with a distinct raw milk flavor; fruity undertones
FontinaItaly (Aosta Valley)Dark golden-brown rind, orange-yellow interiorSemi-soft to firm, depending on age; creamy and melts wellMild, nutty, and slightly woody, with a hint of honey; richer and creamier than Comté
BergkäseAustria/GermanyGolden yellow, often with a natural rindHard and dense, similar to aged ComtéStrong and piquant, with a pronounced savory flavor that intensifies with age
RacletteSwitzerland/FrancePale yellow, smooth to slightly bumpy rindSemi-soft, very creamy, excellent melting propertiesMild, slightly sweet and nutty, with a distinctive aromatic smell when melted
Alpine-style cheese (generic)AmericasVaries, generally pale to medium yellowVaries, often aimed at being semi-hard and good for meltingDesigned to mimic traditional Alpine cheeses: nutty, sweet, with slight umami notes

This table provides a snapshot of how Comté compares with other Alpine-style cheeses in terms of look, texture, and flavor. Each cheese, while sharing similarities in production techniques and origins, offers unique sensory attributes shaped by its specific regional influences and aging processes.

What does it pair with

Below is a table that suggests traditional pairings of Comté cheese with various wines and other drinks, including an explanation for why each pairing works effectively:

DrinkComparable StrengthBalance of TastesHarmony of FlavoursTextural CombinationProvenance/History of Combination
Vin JauneStrongComplements the umami and saltiness of Comté; balances with slight bitternessBoth have nutty, complex flavors that enhance each otherRich cheese with a viscous wineTraditional pairing from the Jura region, sharing geographical and cultural heritage
ChardonnayModerate to StrongAcid and sweet undertones in wine balance the savory and slight saltiness of the cheeseFruity elements of Chardonnay pair well with nutty ComtéCreamy cheese with a smooth wineCommon in French cuisine, pairing regional products
SauternesStrongSweet wine contrasts and cuts through the savory richness of ComtéSweetness of Sauternes complements the nutty and fruity notes in aged ComtéSoft textured cheese with a rich, luscious wineLuxurious pairing, contrasting flavors create a sophisticated balance
Port WineStrongSweet and rich, balances the umami and nutty flavor of aged ComtéThe richness of both the cheese and the wine complement each other wellDense Comté with velvety portA classic pairing that enhances the depth of flavors in both the wine and the cheese
Craft Stout or PorterModerate to StrongBeer’s bitterness and roasted flavors complement the saltiness and savory notes of the cheeseRoasted malt flavors harmonize with the caramel notes in aged ComtéCreamy cheese with a thick, rich beerEmerging pairing in craft beer circles, appreciated for the robust and complex flavor combination
Apple Cider (Dry)ModerateAcidity and sweetness of the cider balance the savory and salty aspects of ComtéFresh, fruity cider contrasts and lifts the dense, rich cheeseCrisp cider with a firm cheeseA refreshing pairing that works well, particularly in the fall season in apple-growing regions

These pairings are chosen to highlight the versatility of Comté and how well it matches with various types of drinks, enhancing both the drink and the cheese for a more enjoyable gastronomic experience.

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