Making Comté - a journey through the cheese making process. Part 1: The Cows & Pasture

Montbeliarde cows

Montbeliarde cows

I recently traveled to the Jura region of France to discover everything about Comté cheese, from how it's made and aged to recipe inspiration. It was a fascinating trip and it really struck home to me how our relationship with a food can change if you find out more about it. Often we buy cheese and that's the point at which our relationship with it begins, we go on to plan how we will use it. But of course there's a whole journey before the cheese reaches us and that journey is what I'll be showing in this series of posts on Making Comté, the journey through the cheese making process. 

Comté holds a long heritage, being made in the Jura Mountains, passed down through generations within the territory. It's orgins lie centuries ago when the harsh winters forced the people to find a collective solution to the problems of sustenance. With this solidarity, the farmers pooled their resources together to produce large wheels of cheese that could feed many people over the winter months.  The heritage of Comté is a real pride of the Jura region, the collective approach inspiring. 

Understanding the history, of different herds of cows, of the collective set up of the dairies and the variety of species of plants in the meadows is key to understand why no two Comté's will taste the same.

Today I'm sharing our time spent with Tas , an English speaking farmer producer of Comté milk at Bouverans. Tas kindly took the time to show us his meadows and cows.

Meadow

Meadow

Meadow

Meadow

The meadows that the cows graze on attribute subtle differences in the cheese produced, Comté can vary in taste not just according to how long it's been aged, but by where the cows fed. Comté cows are exclusively Montbéliarde and French Simmental breeds.  Each cow is given a hectare of pasture land in the summer months, free to feed on a varied meadow grass diet. Looking at the grass in the meadow we visited it's reminiscent of a an unspoilt UK meadow with wildflowers and a variety of flora. 

Tas, the farmer, talking about his cows

Tas, the farmer, talking about his cows

 As with all farming, Tas faces challenges. The biggest problem being the weather. His meadow only has 7 cm of quality soil atop sandier soil, which needs regular rain as it dries out fast."If it doesn't rain for a week, that's a drought for us" he explained.

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Montbeliarde cows enjoying a meadow in the Jura region, France

Finally to the barn, see if you can spot the 'cow cleaner' !

Awards

Awards

Tas explains the cold water mist system that protects the cows from being bothered by flies and keeps them cool when being milked.

Tas explains the cold water mist system that protects the cows from being bothered by flies and keeps them cool when being milked.

In the cow barn

In the cow barn

In Part 2 I'll be showing you the milk that has been collected at a  fruitière, which is a processing center,being churned through the cheese making process. These fruitières are the heart of many of the villages in the French Jura mountains and in the village we visited, the fruitière was located next to the village school.  I can't wait to show you more!

You can also find out more about Comté at comtecheese.co.uk, including where to buy Comté.