Day 4: Comté
Comté is one of the cheeses which, like Camembert, inspires religious discussions about at which point in its affinage it should be consumed. For its part, the association of comté producers markets its product like one might market wine. They talk about vintages and years, with the implication that older comtés are to be preferred over younger, and the oldest are the best. There is some truth to this, but it is an oversimplified point of view.
Young comtés (6-8 months) are called “fruity,” which is deceptive in a sense as this has nothing to do with its taste. A good young comté will exhibit citrusy or dried fruit smells, particularly as it warms in your mouth and the smell passes through the retronasal passage. The older it gets, the more the flavors mature. The oldest comtés have been aged three and even four years.
It’s not just the age of the cheese that matters, though. The time of year it is made has as much to do with its flavor. A cheese made during the summer, when the cows are out to pasture and growing fat and happy on fresh grass and flowers and herbs, is going to be vastly more interesting than one made from the first milk of the spring when the animals are eating hay or late in fall when they are producing less milk.
Fromagerie Cantin has a variety of high-quality comtés, all made during the summer months. For Day 4, I chose a fantastic 24+ month old comté (2015) that smelled of toast and just-melted butter as I ate it. For me, this age (18-24 months) is the sweet spot. The flavors have really started to develop and the biochemical breakdown of the proteins has begun to create tiny crystals in the cheese.