Cheese is not an ingredient that inspires much invention in my kitchen, but not because I don’t like to cook with it. Quite the opposite actually, I love adding cheese to my food and use it a lot… just in the most predictable of ways. I know what I like: cheddar grilled on toast, mozzarella on pizza, feta in salads, parmesan on pasta, camembert or brie to nibble on. I was more than satisfied with my stock standard approach, but then the team at Comté Cheese decided to get me in the kitchen and prove to me the error of my ways. Their motto is that ‘Everything is Better with Comté’ and they have their cheesy little hearts set on convincing everyone that this is the case!
But we before we donned our aprons, we had a lesson in comté – where does this cheese come from, what makes it so special? I’d already brushed up on my knowledge during a comté cheese and wine pairing, but for those of you who aren’t as familiar with it; it’s a unique variety of cheese made from raw milk from around 2,700 family farms in the Jura Massif of France, under very particular circumstances. Though it’s all classed as one variety, the cheese comes in many different flavour profiles from sweet and creamy to rich and nutty, determined by both the age and the season in which the milk was produced.
Having sampled comté a few times now, I know it’s perfectly suited to nibbling with a glass of wine but this time, the challenge was to incorporate it into a starter, main and… just to prove that everything is better with comté, a dessert too. Bold. Comté have worked with chef Laura Pope to create a range of seasonal recipes, and this evening, one of the talented chefs from the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School at Cactus Kitchens ran us through a few of those recipes.
Our first dish was a watercress, beetroot and fennel salad served with pesto crostini – a really bold salad which was a cinch to put together. While I loved the combination of the roasted beets, fennel and watercress lightly dressed in oil and balsamic, the star of this dish was the crostini, or more accurately, the pesto we generously slathered on top of the toasted bread. The not-so-secret ingredient in this punchy green concoction was of course an older, stronger comté which gave the pesto an intense depth of flavour! This dish would be ideal as a dinner party starter as you can prepare it all in advance, or just have the pesto on its own with a big loaf of crusty bread…
The main required a bit more time and elbow grease; risotto is something which can’t really be rushed but if done well, is one of the most satisfying dishes! We paired the comté cheese with butternut squash and sage to create a unctuous, creamy risotto. Full disclosure, I’m really not a fan of butternut squash as I find it all too sweet in savoury dishes. However, in this instance it was quite bearable and I’m pretty sure that was down to the salty, nutty cheese balancing out the sweetness. This was such a hearty number, this dedicated-carnivore didn’t even notice the lack of meat!
And finally, the dish we were all most intrigued by: dessert. How on earth were we going to incorporate cheese into the final course of the night without turning out a cheese platter? Well apparently the answer is to hide it in pastry and create a banana tart tatin. One of my personal mottos has been that everything is better with pastry, but as it happens, pastry can be better with comté too. The flavour was subtle but detectable enough to be the perfect antidote to the bracingly sweet caramel and banana topping. Very clever indeed.
The evening certainly gave me some food for thought; not only did I leave completely stuffed to the brim with cheese and wine, I actually left with some new ideas and inspiration. I’m not quite ready to incorporate cheese into my pastry, but I will be using the block of comté currently in my fridge for something other than a nibble with some crackers… I’ve got my heart set on making another batch of the pesto, and I’ve spotted a comté and asparagus tart recipe which is right up our tastebuds!
Do you cook with cheese? What are some of your favourite cheesy recipes?
Thanks to Comté Cheese for inspiring me to get more inventive with cheese in my cooking, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!