Since many people do not share my deep abiding love for ooey gooey stinky cheeses, on occasion I have to buy something a bit denser to share with my guests. Suanne, particularly, dislikes soft cheese and so whenever I make a cheese plate and know she'll be joining in, I always try and find something that she will like as well.
I don't exactly know what my prejudice is against hard cheeses, since there are plenty that I have met, eaten, and enjoyed. Perhaps it's because I feel sad that I won't be able to spread them greedily onto a beautiful, fresh loaf of bread. Perhaps it has something to do with my masochistic feelings towards a wheel of cheese so stinky it punishes me every time I open the refrigerator door, and with a hard cheese I feel like I'm missing out on that key element of dairy indulgence. Whatever the reason, it's something I need to overcome because, as I said, I actually love hard cheeses.
Hard cheeses are particularly good with fruit like apples and pears, so if you're going for a gluten-free or carb-free or bread-free diet, a nice chunk of solid cheesiness slapped on top of a fresh slice of sour green apple is a good way to go. They're also nice when grated on top of pastas, or stuffed inside dried fruit. It's practically limitless.
So this week I'm going to share a cheese with you that I had never really heard of until coming to France. Comté. Comté is the french equivalent to Parmesan (which while "parmesan" is a French word, it comes from the Italian, "parmigiano reggiano" and is a native Italian cheese), in the sense that it's similar in consistency and flavor. It comes from unpasteurized cow's milk which is most likely the reason why I'd never heard of it before since such cheeses are illegal in the states (Why FDA?! Why?!).
Comté is a beautiful cheese and I especially love going to my local fromagerie and asking the sweet little lady behind the counter for some. She pulls out her gigantic cheese knife and picks up the gigantic wedge of comté and gestures different slices to see how much I want. It has a thick rind that should is edible but not to be eaten, and has a wonderful nutty flavor to it.
Comté does have an odor to it, but its much more mild and pleasant than the rotten feet cheeses I usually go for and thus does not molest your refrigerator, house, hands, or nose, as them either. It's beautiful texture is both crumbly and firm, and it melts magnificently over hot pasta, soup, and adds a strong nutty element to salads and hors d'oeuvres or anything else you feel like grating it over.
It's texturally intriguing and its rich butteriness keeps you wanting more. I am tempted to buy an entire wheel of it but considering how ridiculous I would look walking down the street holding 50lbs of cheese I don't know if that dream will every come true. Comté has become my "go-to" hard cheese and Suanne swoons over it every time she eats it. On New Years I found remnants of the rind that had been chewed down to the stub as if some gigantic mouse had made it's way into the party and gone buck wild on my cheese platter. I suspect Suanne is the guilty party but I, of course, have no proof until the lab get's back with the forensics.
I'll be sad to say goodbye to Comté, and all the other unpasteurized beauties that I've come to love while here, when I finally make my exodus back to the states. I may have to start lobbying for the FDA to repeal some of their outrageous bans on such cheeses, either that or get in touch with some black market cheese dealers. I got a taste of something I liked, and it's going to be hard to let go.
For more on Comté, read this interesting post from David Lebovitz about how it's made. It's truly incredible the strict laws that culinary creators have to follow in France, but it's helped to maintain the quality and respect of the food and it certainly shows.