What Is Comté Cheese?

Production, Uses, and Recipes

Comte cheese on a plate

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Comté is a French cow's milk cheese made from unpasteurized milk. Known as a "mountain cheese," due to its origin in the mountains near the border with Switzerland, Comté is one of France's most popular cheeses. 

Fast Facts

  • Made from: Raw cow's milk
  • Origin: France
  • Aging: 4 months to 2 years

What Is Comté Cheese?

Comté cheese is made in the Jura Massif region of eastern France from unpasteurized cow's milk. It is a semi-hard cheese, pale yellow in color, with a texture that ranges from open, supple, and grainy for younger cheeses to dense, firm, and crystalline for more aged cheeses. When aged, its flavor is nutty, smoky, fruity and sweet, while the younger cheeses are more milky and fresh tasting.

How Comté Is Made

The process for making Comté cheese is threefold, encompassing the raising and feeding of the cows, the cheesemaking itself, and the aging of the cheese. Since Comté cheese has Protected Designation of Origin status (PDO), each step in the process is governed by strict rules that designate everything from the breed of cow that the milk comes from to the maximum distance between pasture and dairy.

The milk used for making Comté comes from the breeds of two specific cows: Montbéliardes and French Simmental, which are raised in the Jura Massif region. By law, each cow must have at least 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of pasture to graze on, and the pastureland in this area is known for the diversity of grasses and wildflowers that grow on it. At least 400 species of wildflowers grow in the pastures where the Montbéliarde cows graze, all of which contribute to the richness and depth of flavor and aroma of the milk. In the winter months, the cows are fed hay that was gathered from these same pastures during the summer. Thus, Comté made in the winter can have different flavors than summer Comté.

To make Comté, the milk is heated to around 90 F, and a starter culture is added to begin the fermentation. After an hour, rennet is added, and the temperature is increased to 133 F, which accelerates the curdling process. Once this is complete, the curds are transferred to round molds, which allow the excess liquid, or whey, to drain. 

After a day, the fresh cheese is transferred to a cellar at the dairy, where it spends 3 weeks, before being moved to a separate aging cellar, where it will spend 4 to 24 months, which includes daily turning and washing with brine to form the rind. During this period, the cheese's color changes from white to yellow, its texture goes from supple to firm, and the flavors and aromas become more spicy and nutty.

Substitutes

If Comté isn't available and you're looking for something similar, you'll want to use a cheese with a similar nutty, buttery, creamy flavor profile, and likewise a comparable texture. Your best bets in terms of flavor and texture are Gruyere and fontina. Beaufort is another French cheese with a similar buttery, nutty flavor and dense texture that you could also use instead. But as always, when substituting one cheese for another, look for a cheese with a similar aging time as the one you're swapping out. For example, substitute a 4-month-old fontina for a 4-month-old Comté, or a 12-month-old gruyere for a 12-month-old Comté.

Types of Comté

The two main types of Comté are summer Comté and winter Comté. The differences have to do with what the cows eat during those months, as they feed on grasses and wildflowers during the summer months and hay made from the same pastureland during the winter. Summer Comté has an earthier flavor and a more golden hue, while the winter version is milder and milkier.

Uses

Because younger Comté is a superb melting cheese, it is often combined with Gruyere and Emmenthal to make fondue. They also work in omelets, grilled cheese sandwiches, and mac and cheese. The more aged varieties are harder and don't melt quite as smoothly, more closely resemble cheddar or Parmesan, so they're great for grating over vegetables and casseroles, but can also work well in mac and cheese in combination with other cheeses. Comté is a great snacking cheese and therefore a great choice for a cheese platter.

Cutting Comte cheese
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Wheels of Comte cheese
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Comte cheese
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Wheels of Comte cheese
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Storage

The ideal temperature to store Comté is between 45 and 55 F, but this is warmer than the temperature inside a refrigerator. Still, since your kitchen counter is probably warmer than 55 F, your fridge will have to do. Wrap the cheese in wax paper or parchment and store it in a covered container in the cheese drawer of your refrigerator. For best flavor, let it sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.

Comté Recipes

Some recipes specifically call for Comté cheese, but you can substitute it in recipes that specify other cheeses, such as gruyere or fontina.

Types of Comté Cheese

The two main types of Comté are summer Comté and winter Comté. The differences have to do with what the cows eat during those months, as they feed on grasses and wildflowers during the summer months and hay made from the same pastureland during the winter. Summer Comté has an earthier flavor and more golden hue, while the winter version is milder and milkier.

Can You Eat the Rind?

Comté is a washed-rind cheese, and you can eat the rind, but it might be a bit salty. With that said, the cheese that is nearest the rind can have more developed flavors than cheese from the inner part.