John, our intrepid cheese buyer, has recently returned from selecting wheels of Comte for Christmas from the caves in France. Here he explains about the selection process and the history of the Comte cellar he visited.
The trip was to VIEU D’IZENAV in the Jura, small village, with one historic cave, which has a long history as a location for rippening comte. Much smaller than other caves, there are 6 cellars. and there are a maximum of 6000 wheels. To this day there are no machines used, so the wheels are still turned, salted, and washed by hand, this means the wheels get a lot on individual care, also the racks that the cheese ripen on are much lower in size than most caves, so cheese, and specifically batches, and in a more tightly controlled space, which allows the cheese to ripen more evenly, and allows the affineur to monitor the quality of the cheese more consistently. The Comte come from three fruitières, so the cave is working with a smaller number of producers than usually happens.
The master affineur has been rippening cheese for 30 years and follows in the footsteps of forefathers, his own father being a comte master, so its very much about the terroir and tradition, where everything in the present and the past is closely linked, and the traditions, and excellence of the cheese is maintained. Fruiterie, cave, affineur, savoire faire… know how.
So we were looking at 36 months Comte, for Christmas. Only a small number of cheese make it to this age, the usual practice at a cave is that you taste comte by batch not by wheel, but given the size of the cave we were able to select wheel by wheel.
I was looking to avoid cheese that had a sign of breaking down on the rind, paste that was excessively dry, overpowering flavours…. I was searching for Comte that still showed a hint of white on the rind to show the cheese was still breathing, and wheels that didn’t stick to the board where they were rippened, indicating that they had been turned with regularity, and care.
What we wanted was a well cared for a wheel, that still showed the flavour, and balance of the milk, and youth, side by side with restrained depth and power.
We need wheels that still showed some subtlety and complexity of flavour, and character, that had reached a depth of flavour, and power, without becoming overbearing, a balance of restraint and body. Cheese marked with an E to be shipped to England, selected by Bayley & Sage.