Kicking & screaming, Mum & I head east, leaving Burgundy en route to Franche-Comte & the Jura Mountains. We were able to squeak in a wine taste or 5 at Chateau de Pommard on the way, but after that it was all business. Cheese business.
After spending a night in the pretty uneventful town of Lons-le-Saunier (it was a serious snore...I only took 1 picture & not even that one is worth posting), we head out on our last day of the trip on 'Mission: COMTE'. Luckily, once in the Jura Mountains, it is actually quite difficult to escape COMTE. It is a cheese by the people for the people...and you can certainly feel the love. I will take it from the top for those not familiar with this fabulous cheese.
COMTE, pronounced contay, is a mountain/gruyere style cheese dating back to as early as the 12th century. It's name is also always capitalized. Not quite sure why, but I am not out to rustle any utters, so I will roll with it. The production of COMTE has been protected & controlled by AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) regulations since the mid-1970's. Regulations state that COMTE must be produced in the Jura Moutain region of France (similar to the regulations around champagne, stilton, roquefort, etc) with raw milk from Montbeliarde cows (so cute!). These cows must have at least 2.5 acres of pasture for grazing for a 100% natural diet (silage is a no no). Their milk must be transported to the dairy (what we would call a creamery) immediately after each milking where the cheesemaking happens every morning. Once cheese is made it must be aged for a minimum of 4 months. After aging, each wheel is rated from 1-20 on taste, texture, appearance, rind, & shape. The wheel must score 12 out of 20 to bear the brown COMTE label & 15 or above to wear the green label. Anything below 12 cannot officially be called COMTE. Some pretty stiff standards for this cheese & the taste certainly reflects all the love being poured into the process.
Beyond the regulations,the magic is really in the cooperative type set up that brings this glorious treat from the pastures of Jura to your buds. Milk from over 3000 dairy farms (over 130 gallons of milk are need to produce one 80 lb wheel of COMTE) is transported to over 170 dairies/creameries and finally to 1 of 20 maturing houses, where the aging process takes place. A truly remarkable machine allowing small farmers & creameries to produce delicious cheese without breaking the bank. Mum & I were able to grab a tour of one of the largest maturation facilities at Fort des Rousses. Unfortunately, the friendly man leading the tour did not speak a lick of English...which kept things quite interesting.
In the caves, the cheese becomes COMTE getting rubbed down with salt, washed, flipped (COMTE flipping robot in pic at right), rated, labeled, & shipped to a place near you. Yum.
This is all likely more info than you ever wanted about this delicious cheese, but hopefully it will come in handy during a good game of trivial pursuit. You never know. I could go on for days, but I think it's better for you to go out, grab a wedge, & taste the nutty, toasty, deliciousness for yourself.
Long live COMTE!