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Why Comté cows are world’s most pampered

01 June 2011

Comté cows can rightly claim to be the world’s most pampered bovines. The Montbéliarde cattle that produce the milk for French Comté cheese, are personally named by some farmers and are guaranteed by law to have at least 2.5 acres of pasture to graze on

Comté cheese flavour is unique, as the cows’ diet is completely natural and changes with the seasons. They are banned from being fed silage and instead, in summer, they graze on pastures that are a spectacular array of flowers and grasses, which create the diversity and complexity of aromas and tastes.

A study of local flora counted 576 plant varieties growing in the pastures of 60 Comté cheese dairies, with an average of 130 varieties for each dairy. In winter, the cows come indoors, where they eat hay harvested on the farm.

The diversity of this diet has a remarkable effect on the quality of the milk, and then on the colour and the taste of the cheese throughout the year. There are a staggering 83 separate flavours most frequently encountered when tasting Comté but you may discover even more.

The cows are milked mornings and evenings, and the milk has to be brought to the cheese dairy every day. In order to express the diversity of the soil and the types of grazing as best as possible, the foraging zone for each cheese dairy is limited to an area with a diameter of 15.5 miles.

It takes 450 litres to make a whole wheel of Comté, which can weigh up to 40kgs. A Montbéliarde cow produces about 20 litres at two milkings, and so 23 cows are necessary to produce just one round of Comté.

Farmer Jean-François Marmier, whose farm in the Jura mountains supplies milk that produces Comté, has already named each of his cows. His favourite is Celestine, who has her own special cow bell.

He also keeps his herd relaxed with hugs and massages to make them feel extra special. Jean-François added: “It’s very important that we keep each cow happy. A hug and a smile are simple little things that make a big difference to the herd. But we found that giving each cow a name has made them even more content, relaxed and productive. It’s quite remarkable.”

The cheese, which comes from the same Franche-Comté region as world-renowned chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc, is one of France’s most popular cheeses. And it’s starting to get a reputation over here, with Blanc and Queen of Shops Mary Portas some of its favourite fans.

Nutty, creamy, fruity, peppery and toasty are just some of the notes you will come to love. It’s perfect on any cheeseboard, on its own or as part of other dishes like sandwiches, salads and fondue. It’s also one of the few cheeses that work well when accompanying both red and white wine. These factors make Comté a fantastically versatile cheese.

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