Ari's Picks

A Terrific Batch of Comté at the Deli, Cream Top Shop, and Mail Order

Incredible Mountain Cheese from Eastern France

Writing about grief, as I did last week, always calls up particular memories for me. A loss may have happened a long time ago, but the feelings can still come back as if it were just last month. For me, it’s the passing of my parents, of my pup Jelly Bean, and of my uncle. And the far too early death of my friend Daphne Zepos in the summer of 2012. When we think back to those we have lost, their memories often bring up other things with which we associate them. It could be memories of music, meals, places, holidays. With Daphne, more than anything I think, my mind comes first to Comté cheese. Comté was her passion project; she loved the cheese, and she went to great lengths to bring some of the best of the best to the U.S., and in particular to us at Zingerman’s. While Daphne died nearly ten years ago, both her memory and the supply of this exceptional French mountain cheese are still very much alive.

Referencing her in the writing last week reminded me to go over to the Deli to get a bit of Comté. Comté has become a bit of edible elegy for Daphne. Every time I eat some I think back fondly on our friendship. It brings a bit of both joy and sadness in every bite. As David Whyte writes, “An elegy, a good elegy, looking at it from the poetic point of view, is always a conversation between grief and celebration. The grief of the loss of the person and the celebration that you were here at all to share the planet with them, you know?”

Comté is one of France’s oldest cheeses and one of last strong bastions of traditional cheese making. A great Comté like what we get through the connections Daphne created for us in the years before she died, will be buttery, softly nutty, intensely excellent without going over any edge. All our Comté comes to us from Marcel Petit, the firm that’s been maturing cheese in what’s known as the “Fort St. Antonie,” for over fifty years. Our Staff Partner and longtime Mail Order cheese specialist and warehouse manager, Lisa Roberts, says:

Recently I travelled to Marcel Petit’s Fort St. Antoine in Jougne, France where they age Comté cheese. This was a dream come true for me. Everyone acknowledges that the French make great cheese and Comté is king in France. Comté from Fort St. Antoine is the crown of the king and a trip there is like a cheesemonger’s haj. The Fort is special because it’s an ideal environment for very slow maturing of the wheels. It was built into the side of a hill in the 1800’s and abandoned after it failed at its job stopping Germans in World War II. Inside it, the cheese can develop and express its individual flavors. I think it’s just about perfect. It’s a wonderful balance of flavors that include hazelnut, brothy French onion soup and butter. It has the most delicate hint of sweetness and a super long finish.

Our “regular” Comté, aged inside the stone walls of the Fort for about 18 months, has a fantastic flavor that melts in the mouth. It’s gentle and intense at the same time in an intriguing and eminently enjoyable way. A light nuttiness, with just the tiniest whisper of smokiness. I could honestly eat this cheese all day! Give me a good salad, a thick slice of Country Miche bread from the Bakehouse spread with a bit of cultured butter, and slices of this Comté laid on top. I’ve been making a spread of grated Comté, a bit of mayo, a good amount of freshly ground Tellicherry pepper and some Domaine de Terre Rouge Walnut Mustard (you can also sub in some good Dijon). Great on toast or on egg noodles!

At the Deli we also have our annual arrival of Extra Aged Comté! If you’re into mature mountain cheese even half as much as I am, do NOT miss it! We have two wheels made in June of 2019, well before the pandemic began. Intense and exceptional without being at all over the top, it’s pretty darned terrific! Powerful in its quiet way it sets you back and makes you take notice in a way that’s wonderfully unforgettable.

You can get the Comté at the DeliCream Top Shop, and at Mail Order. The Extra Aged Comté is only at the Deli right now; we’re happy to ship you some though—just email us at [email protected].