Cooking with Comté

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I was recently invited to a cooking class at L’atelier des chefs on comté cheese.  The class began with some wine and a little introduction to comté and it’s production methods. Comté is a French cheese originating in a fairly remote region in the mountains of Eastern France where there are over 2500 family farms dedicated to producing the raw milk that is used to create comté.  The cows used for producing the milk are only fed with natural feed and their milk has to be processed within 24 hours so it’s extremely fresh.  It is then taken to one of the 150 small village cheese dairies in France that specialise in producing comté, where it is looked after for at least 4 months, and is regularly turned, salted and rubbed in a cheese wheel with brine solution.

It’s a hard cheese that’s from a similar family to gruyère cheese and has over 83 natural flavours that can be detected when tasting it, making it a very versatile cheese that can be added to loads of dishes.

We then had the opportunity to taste three different ages of comté.  In general, the darker the cheese is, the older it probably is, and the older it is, the saltier it is.  Our cheese tasting was followed by a demonstration by chef Laura Pope, of two dishes that she has developed using comté.  First we had the freekeh salad with charred pears, rocket and comté and for the main she made bubble and squeak with melted comté and a fried egg (the recipes can be found below).  We then split off into groups and had a go at making (and eating!) the dishes ourselves.

Freekeh salad with Comté, charred pears & cinnamon, rocket & toasted pecans

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Prep time: 20 – 30 minutes
Serves 4

The freekeh salad was honestly one of the best salads I’ve ever tried! There are so many flavours and textures involved, the freekeh itself has a delicious smoky, earthy flavour, the pecans offer a crunch, the pears a sweet twinge and the lemon a citrusy element.

Freekeh originates in the middle east and is green durum wheat that has been roasted, rubbed and then cracked.  You can buy dried freekeh and prep it yourselves, but we actually cheated slightly and used ready made freekeh by Merchant Gourmet to save time.  It was really delicious and I’d probably buy it again in future because it cuts down prep time but still has a great flavour!  Laura mentioned that we could substitute the freekeh for bulgur wheat or quinoa if required.

Ingredients:

  • 250g freekeh (either ready made or cooked according to the packet instructions if cracked)
  • 2 to 4 just ripe pears (depending on size – you want about 400g in total)
  • 1 tablespoon light olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 50g rocket leaves
  • 100g pecan nuts (without shells)
  • Zest of ½ lemon and juice of 1 lemon
  • 45ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g 12-14 month aged Comté, cubed

Method:

  1. Toast the pecans: heat oven to 160℃ fan / 180℃ normal and lay the pecans out on a baking sheet, then toast for about 10 minutes, until they give off a rich aroma – but do not let them burn. Let them cool, remove a handful to leave whole and then roughly chop the rest.
  2. Add the freekeh to your salad bowl.
  3. If the skin of the pears is rough and thick, peel them – if not, you can leave it on. Cut them into eighths and cut out the cores. Toss the pears in the oil, cinnamon and a little salt and black pepper. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat for a few minutes and then char each side of the pears so that they have griddle lines and are warm all the way through – you don’t want to overcook them or they will fall apart. Chop half the pears into cubes and leave the rest for later.
  4. Mix the lemon zest, juice and olive oil together and season with salt and pepper. Mix this through the freekeh and mix in the rocket leaves, the chopped pecan nuts, the cubed pears and most of the Comté. Lay the pear slices on top and scatter over the remaining Comté and pecans.

Bubble & squeak with melted Comté and fried egg

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Prep time: 20 – 30 minutes (depending on whether you have leftover mashed potato)
Serves 4

Bubble and squeak is a great way to use up leftover potato and vegetables.  It’s also warming and comforting so is the perfect meal for winter (or most of the year if you live in the UK!!) We added cavolo nero and comté which tasted delicious melted! We topped the dish with a fried egg.

Ingredients:

  • 400g cavolo nero
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil, for frying
  • 900g cooked mashed potato
  • 8 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • 200g 18 to 24 month aged Comté, coarsely grated
  • 4 eggs

Method:

  1. Cut out the central rib of each leaf of cavolo nero and discard, then cut the leaves into wide strips. Melt 30g of the butter in a saucepan and add the cavolo nero, a splash of water and season with salt and black pepper. Turn heat up high and stir the cavolo nero to coat it in the butter, water and seasoning, then turn the heat down to medium, cover the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, until it is wilted, giving the pan a shake every now and then. Drain off any excess liquid.
  2. Heat the remaining 30g butter and about ½ tablespoon oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat, then tip in the potato and spring onion and fry. As it cooks, you want it to brown and char slightly – make sure to spread it out over the base of the pan and keep breaking it up and scraping the bottom of the pan so that the lovely, crunchy brown bits are mixed in.
  3. Mix in the cavolo nero and then the Comté and turn the heat down to medium. When the Comté starts to melt, stop turning the mixture over – just press it down every now to flatten the surface and cook over a low heat until it is golden brown on the bottom.
  4. Meanwhile, in a separate frying pan, heat ½ tablespoon of oil and fry the eggs over a medium heat so that the whites are set but the yolks are still runny – season each egg with a little salt and black pepper as they are cooking. Place the four fried eggs on top of the bubble & squeak and serve in the frying pan for everyone to help themselves.

I was sent home with a slice of the comté cheese wheel and have been adding it to salads, pastas and several other dishes, it’s such a versatile cheese and I’m glad I discovered it!  If you want to get your hands on some comté, it is sold in several cheesemongers and supermarkets in the UK (such as Waitrose). See their website for more details at www.comtecheese.co.uk

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