Comté is France’s number 1 cheese, so when its marketing team come to town, you can’t help but notice. Especially if you’re a cheese lover, like me.
Last weekend, Lille became the latest city to have been visited by the Table du Comté experience. Lyon, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille and Bordeaux have all tucked in before us.
The event took in a variety of venues across the city over the weekend.
In all, 9 Comté-themed meals had been arranged at upmarket restaurants in Lille, including at one of our favourites, the Michelin-starred La Table at the Clarance Hôtel. Sadly, we couldn’t get a table.
We did manage to get a look in at Les Halles in the Wazemmes district of Lille, though. There, much of the old market hall had been given over to Comté on Saturday morning.
The centrepiece was two cheesemakers stirring a vat of milk that would become a wheel of Comté. They explained more about the cheese as they went about the process.
Each wheel is made from some 400 litres of milk – or, put another way, a day’s milk from 23 cows. The cows must be either Montbéliarde or French Simmental breeds.
Comté is protected by an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and each cheese must be aged for a minimum of 4 months.
It can only be produced in the mountains and plateaux of the Massif du Jura. This spans three départements in eastern France – Jura and Doubs in the Bourgogne-France-Comté region and Ain in the Auvergne-Rhône -Alpes.
“The centrepiece was two cheesemakers stirring a vat of milk that would become a wheel of Comté”
Each batch is graded out of 20, based on its taste, texture and appearance.
Cheeses with a grading of 15 or more are given a green band and classed as Comté Extra. Those between 12 and 14 are given a brown label and are considered straightforward Comté.
Any that score below 12 aren’t given the Comté AOC label.
There was a scrum to taste the free Comté on offer in the market hall, and we gave up after a while – our elbows simply aren’t sharp enough. We had better luck that evening, however, when we popped into one of our favourite wine bars after dinner in town.
They were offering a happy hour special.
If you bought a glass of wine, you’d get a plate of Comté Doux (6-8 months’ ageing), Comté Fruité (12 months) and Comté Vieux (15-20 months) to try. It was well past happy hour when we got there, but, well, we’re good customers, so they gave us a plate anyway.
We were quite peckish, as you can see – we had polished off the youngest Comté before I could even get my phone out to take a photo.
I find the idea of a weekend dedicated to a particular food rather appealing. As if to prove a point, we’re actually in Italy this weekend, truffle hunting.
More about that next week. Ciao for now!