Comté and A Cocktail: A Journey Unfolds
One of my favorite things to do before a long trip is to create a checklist of tastes, so I can remember what to nibble in the field. I know, it sounds obsessive — but without obsessive acts, life is a bit milquetoast, is it not?
Next week, I have the great fortune of traveling to France as a co-host for Cheese Journeys, a company based in New York that curates dazzling dairy experiences. Amidst the frenzy of packing and getting my classes covered at work, I take brief pauses to imagine little scenes: drinking the milk of three regions, sleeping and waking to the sound of Alpine cowbells, and gorging on as much raw-milk French cheese as possible.
Since I tend to be a bit geographically challenged, these scenes allow me to visualize the itinerary my tastebuds will follow as they salivate from the Savoie to Alsace to the region of Franche-Comte. Translation: our trip begins with rustic Tomme de Savoie, stanky Raclette, and gooey Reblochon, then ends with nutty-sweet Comté and impossibly sultry Vacherin. Along the way, I am anticipating tartiflette, soft Munster, and Chartreuse cocktails. (Yours truly will lead the expedition to the Chartreuse monastery and be making the cocktails!)
Of our tour’s many cheese destinations, I am most excited to set foot in the cellars of Fort Saint Antoine — a vast underground artillery fort that now holds wheel upon wheel of Comté.
Comté is Gruyere made in France (the Swiss claimed the name “Gruyere” long ago). Although Comté is less of a household name in the U.S., it is one of the best cheeses to seek if you are looking to broaden your cheese palate. That’s because it’s hard to find bad Comté. In fact, “bad” and “Comté” don’t belong in the same sentence. Comté is carefully regulated and none of it is factory made; it’s produced by a few hundred “frutieres“, or small farms. When the 80-lb wheels of Comté are young, they are collected by an affineur (someone trained in aging cheese) and matured in a cave, like Fort Saint Antoine, until they ripen to perfection.
The caves at Fort Saint Antoine are referred to as the “Cathedral of Comté.” Needless to say, one of the items on my packing list will be a pack of votives.
Taste Comté: If you want a pre-emptive tasting, pick up a hunk of Comté (ask for the Marcel Petit label, the line from Fort Saint Antoine). You’ll find it at cheese shops around the country.
Comté & Cocktails: I love to pair Comté with a Ritz Cocktail, a recipe featured in the most recent book I wrote with my brother, The New Cocktail Hour. With notes of caramel and toasted brioche, it’s splendid with Comté of any age.
Ritz Cocktail Recipe
Created by Dale Degroff
3/4 ounce brandy (Pierre Ferrand Ambre)
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
1/4 ounce lemon juice
2 ounces chilled Champagne
orange twist, for garnish
Stir brandy, Cointreau, maraschino, and lemon in a shaker tin with ice. Strain into a martini glass. Top with Champagne, then garnish with an orange twist.