Cheese: Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comté
Where: Grange Narboz, Jura, France
Milk Type: cow, raw
Texture: firm (varies widely from cheese to cheese – this week’s wedge was lightly crystalline)
Shape: enormous, flat, ~80-110lb wheels
Flavor: Again, can vary widely; this wedge was fairly mild, pronounced caramelized onion, green peas, green grass, berries
Some say Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comté is THE Comté.
While that might be quite subjective, it is certainly at the apex of quality and respectability whether you’re casual eaters or total cheese snobs (I say that looking in the mirror). So special, truth be told, according to the US importer, Essex Street Cheese in New York, this is the exact cheese that launched their business.
Here’s where this wonderful cheese originated and how it gets to us:
When you look at that, you might think “factory” cheese and that each wheel would be identical… like some monstrous warehouse of Kraft Singles. Fortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comté is made by some three dozen fruitieres. All in the Jura using traditional methods, Marcel Petite nurtures and curates each wheel. Along with regular tastings, wheels are graded up… down… rejected.
When you really get to know an artisan cheese and I mean REALLY get to know it through trying and trying and trying, you will come to appreciate that what at first “tastes grassy and nutty” eventually evolves on your palate to ” fresh cut sweetgrass, toasted hazelnuts, spring peas and tart black raspberries. Those are pretty apt descriptors for the wedge I tasted most recently.
But here’s where Comté then plays hob with your “carefully honed perceptions”. Each season’s Comté can vary spectacularly. I know folks who swear by “I only eat the rare, 3-year aged…” well, yeah… that’s a treat. But trust me, I’ve had 3-year from separate batches that differ so much I struggle to believe it’s the same cheese. Also, I’ve had “Comté the younger” that was at times more pleasing that its elders and at times more boring. For all the pounds of Montgomery Cheddar I’ve devoured, rich with it’s own variations, it’s Comté that seems to always be most different from wheel to wheel. (OK… maybe that’s been Stichelton lately – this young cheese has been VERY different batch to batch but I understand they’re “tweaking the recipe” of late).
For the less discriminating, you might think Comté is Comté. Or any other alpine, cooked curd, pressed cheese.
I won’t argue. Their are many in this style stretching from France, through to Switzerland and beyond that all are imbued with similar qualities, taste, great snackers, good for cooking. And I have yet to meet a person who dislikes this style.
But if you really love the style, seek out the Comté made by those who care so much about its quality they protect it in a fortress.
Essex’ Flickr slideshow of Fort St. Antoine and the cheeses of Marcel Petite.