What to Eat in France: Soufflé au Comté, or Comté Cheese Soufflé
Comté cheese is a jewel born of Franco-Swiss history. By today’s boundaries, it is in the Jura Mountains in France, so it is technically considered a French cheese, although it’s made in a manner similar to that of the hard “cooked” Swiss cheeses we know as “holey Swiss cheese.”
Cara De Silva waxed poetic about Comté several years ago in Saveur magazine. I can’t describe it any better:
…that semifirm Comté is born of the distinctive milk of the region’s Montbeliarde cows, whose diet includes wild orchids, daisies, dandelions, and more than 400 other plant varieties; that it’s produced in the fruitières, or cooperative dairies, that have dotted the landscape of the Franche-Comté region for centuries; that the Montbeliardes’ milk is partly skimmed and heated gently in copper-lined vats before being combined with rennet; that the resulting curds are broken into fine grains, put into molds for pressing, and set on spruce boards for a few weeks of aging before being entrusted to an affineur, who oversees the further maturing of the cheese.
The Ancient Romans were already enjoying cheeses from this Franche-Comté region, and the cheese production in the villages of Deservillers and Levier were mentioned as early as 1264-1280. In 1380, there was mention of a cheese of such a large size that it could only be produced by a cooperative. After 1678, when Franche-Comté became part of France, there was an exodus of native Helvetics. It was then that other Swiss from the Gruyère region moved to the region, bringing the method of making Gruyère cheese — the cheese we often call “Swiss cheese” — with them. It is for this reason that the original name was Gruyère de Comté, now the AOC “Comté.”