I never appreciated quite how much the people in my life like cheese until I mentioned that I was going to a cheese tasting event. My colleagues’ eyes lit up, my friends sent me text messages of jealousy, and this was before I had even mentioned the wine part. I like cheese, but my tastes are simple – melted between two thick slices of white bread, on top of pizza, or some of the softer variety smushed onto a cracker – send any of those my way and I’m a happy girl.
When I explained this to anyone who cared enough to listen, it was met with mutterings about how the cheese would be wasted on me… When I went on to say the cheese was Comté and the wines were from the Jura region, I swear some people shot me daggers. As a cheese novice, I had never even heard of Comté until earlier this year and as for Jura? Let’s not embarrass each other by asking me to locate it on the map. But given the popularity of both amongst those in the know, I knew I was in for a treat even before I stepped into the beautiful Chandos House!
I was greeted with so much cheese, I was wondering if the cheese dreams had already begun… I think the true cheese enthusiasts had basically died and gone to heaven at the sight of all that Comté. But before the tasting and pairing commenced, we actually got to know what we were working with. Patrick MGuigan was there to tell us about the cheese, while Wink Lorch educated us on the wines from the Jura.
Contrary to my original belief, Comté is not a brand of cheese but a variety of cheese made with raw milk, specifically from villages in Eastern France. The process is fairly stringent – the milk from around 2,700 family farms gets transported to the 160 or so fruitères who make the cheese, before it gets transferred to the care of the affineurs who help it mature and develop various flavours. If you think it sounds a little old fashioned, you’d be right – this cooperative process has been in place for over 10 centuries and shows no signs of changing.
Complimenting the cheese would be a selection of wines from the Jura region, the smallest in France. It’s situated next to Burgundy (a wine region I recently got familiar with), has just under 2,000ha of vineyards, and produces five grape varieties. Two of which I know well – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and three which sound far too sophisticated for this amateur wine fan – Savagnin, Poulsard and Trousseau. It is also home to a special type of wine, Vin Jaune, made from Savagnin and aged in a specific process which causes a layer of yeast to form in the barrels, thereby giving it the distinctive flavours.
After the lessons, came the test… good thing the rest of my group were listening carefully because I was quite overwhelmed by all the cheeses! Our challenge, which we had no choice but to accept, was to taste each of the Comté, varying in maturity from 4 months to 30 months, and each of the wines to come up with the ultimate pairing. Patrick and Wink asked us to think outside the box and not simply pair the youngest cheese with the lightest wine and the oldest with the darkest so as we tasted, we thought about how they each complimented (or not) the other.
Eating cheese and drinking wine sounds like a walk in the park, right? It certainly is when you’re not weighing up the merits of a creamy, well rounded 18 month old Comté against the more intense, chalkier 30 month old, and then considering whether they work better with the 2014 Trousseau or 2012 Savagnin on offer. I found it incredibly tough but I got plenty of guidance from the other enthusiastic cheese eaters and had a fabulous time nibbling and sipping to try and find the perfect combination!
And what was that perfect combination you might be wondering…? One of the groups came up with the pairing of the Crémant du Jura Blanc, Domaine Désiré-Petit, a refreshing sparkling number paired with the rich 30 month old Comté; an intriguing combination which was really quite fantastic. Somehow, the rich cheese didn’t overpower the wine, and the delicate wine managed to bring out a lightness in the cheese – genius!
Are you a cheese connoisseur? What’s your favourite variety?
Thanks to Comté Cheese UK for introducing me to their cheese and the wines from the Jura, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!