Made from raw cow's milk exclusively in the Jura Mountain region of France, Comté has been produced for over eight centuries. Consumed by at least 40% of the population, it is also France's most popular cheese.
To keep up with this demand, Comté is produced in very substantial quantities by approximately 350 co-operatives, known as "fruitieres." About 95% of the milk for production comes from the breed of Montbeliarde cow, while the remaining 5% is drawn from the French Simmenthal. The cows reside on approximately 5,500 different farms and dairies in the mountains, where the average herd size is 60 animals. Milk is delivered daily to the fruitieres, and it takes 140 gallons of milk (the daily output of 30 cows) to make one 80-90lb. wheel of Comté.
The production and affinage (maturation) of Comté are governed by AOC (name protected) regulations that came into effect in 1976, and both must take place within the AOC specified areas.
Great importance is attached to the starter cultures for Comté. The majority of producers use cultures that are related to local flora and are prepared by the Agricultural Research Institute at Poligny. They will also tailor cultures for an individual cheesemaker.
After production, the young cheeses are transferred to a relatively small number of affineurs (cheese maturers), most of whom are Comté specialists and who mature 600-1,700 tonnes of cheese a year.
Wheels are matured for a minimum of 90 days from the date of production, at below 66°F with a minumum humidity level of 92%. The cheese is regularly rubbed with brine to help develop the rind.
The texture of Comté is smooth and dense, with occasional holes that range from pea to cherry size. The interior paste is a straw-colored yellow that varies from pale to darker depending on the animals' diet and the color of the milk at the time of production.
Flavors are very rich and famously complex, and vary according to the fruitiere. it is not unusual to taste butter, chocolate, toast, fudge, hazelnuts, plums, pepper or even leather in the cheeses.