Cheese Primerby Steven Jenkins
Steven Jenkins is our foremost cheese authorityin the words of The New York Times, "a Broadway impresario whose hit is food." Now, after years of importing cheeses, scouring the cheese-producing areas of the world, and setting up cheese counters at gourmet food shops, he's decided to write it all down. Full of passion, knowledge, and an expert's considered
Steven Jenkins is our foremost cheese authorityin the words of The New York Times, "a Broadway impresario whose hit is food." Now, after years of importing cheeses, scouring the cheese-producing areas of the world, and setting up cheese counters at gourmet food shops, he's decided to write it all down. Full of passion, knowledge, and an expert's considered opinions the cheese primer tells you everything you need to know about the hundreds of cheeses that have, in the last few years, become available in this country. Region-by-region, he covers all the major cheeses from France, Italy, Switzerlandthe top tier of cheese-producing countriesplus the best of Britain, Ireland, Spain, the United States, Austria, Germany, and other countries. Along the way he tells how to pick out a healthy Pont l'Eveque; why to reconsider the noble Fontina for more than just cooking; how to avoid those factory-made chevres; why to seek out the sublime Vacherin Mont d'Or; and how to start exploringBleu de Bresse, Cabrales, Crottin de Chavignol, and so on. A complete primer, it includes information on the best ways to store and serve cheese, including which wines to serve alongside them; how to orchestrate a proper cheese course; and the unimportable cheeses to look up when abroad.
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COMTE (GRUYERE DE COMTE)
The full name for Comte (cone-TAY), French Gruyere, is Gruyere de Comte (grew-YAIR or gree-AIR-duh-cone-TAY). Franche-Comte is adjacent to Switzerland just above Haute-Savoie and south of the Vosges in the Alsace Region. The original Gruyere was neither Swiss nor French (see box, page 115). But as the French became more and more nationalistic, and perhaps increasingly ethnocentric, they wanted their cheese to have its own identity. After all, it was somewhat different from the Swiss Gruyere: Occasionally it had pea- or cherry-size holes (eyes), it was a bit more straw-colored, a bit firmer, and the flavor was more nutlike. rather than call it French Gruyere, they began referring to it as Comte, or at the very least as Gruyere de Comte.
I find the Swiss Gruyere is a little granular and tastes a bit waxy, with some bite, whereas French Gruyere de Comte has more of an oily sweetness to it. I prefer the nuttier, toffee-tasting French variety, although both are great cheeses. The real difference between Swiss Gruyere and French Comte is: The Swiss allow their cheeses to go to market after only three months, whereas Comte is rarely aged for less than six months and often it is ages as long as a year.
Comte is used frequently in the cooking of the region and throughout France, appearing in quiches, onion soupof courseand numerous tarts, onion gratins, and potato gratins. It is also considered an essential table cheese for eating out of hand or to finish a meal.
All French Comte is name-controlled and excellent. The "least best" example is that from the lowlands of Comte, because the milk used to make it just cannot approach the quality of high Alpine pasture Franche-Comte milk. The grading of Comte before its release is stringent and only excellent cheese which have earned 14 (or more) out of 20 points on the grading scale are allowed to have their rinds stamped in green with the cheese name and the image of a bell. To identify the best you must taste; two good brands are Arnaud and Jura-Gruyere. There are no Comte factories; there are about 300 small dairies (fruitieres) that turn out an average of only six to seven cheeses a day. These are then sold to companies that are (affiner) them following rules established by the fruitieres. These affineurs (some of whom also make cheese) sell the cheeses they have ripened to retailers and exporters. Some Savoie-based producer/affineurs, namely Perrin and Delean, make fine mountain cheese similar to Comte but are primarily known for their indigenous Reblochon and Tomme de Savoie. Reybier, located in the Jura, is another firm with a reputation for distributing fine-quality Comte as well as other great cheeses of Franche-Comte and Savoie.
Wheels of Comte average 75 to 80 pounds (371/2 to 40 k) each and are only about 4 inches thick, whereas French Emmental, a regional kinsman, can be as much as 10 inches thick. The Comtes have parallel, flat faces, whereas Emmentals are great, convex, rounded balloons like inner tubes without the hole. Comtes are more than 3 feet in diameter with a beautiful brown, pebbled rind, and always a striking paper label.
Choosing and Serving Comte (Gruyere de Comte)
It's hard to come home with a less than perfect piece of Comte, one of the most enjoyable, versatile cheeses imaginable. Avoid any batch that is moldy or dried out, and don't let your cheesemonger sell you a hunk that has a disproportionate amount of rind.
It is preferable to have a piece of Comte cut for you rather than to purchase it pre-cut and pre-wrapped. (The cheese will have lost its perfume and some of its life, even if it was cut and wrapped only a day earlier.) Here is the only advisory needed: Don't buy old stock. The cheese should be a yellowish-ivory color inside, and the gray-brown pebbled rind should be uniform and intact, not cracked. Avoid any batch that shows more than one-half inch of darkness between the interior cheese and the outer crust-an indication of excessive drying. Don't let the purveyor cut you a piece too close to the side rind: Either insist on a piece closer to the center of the wheel or buy a long tranche (slab). You are paying mainly for the rind if your piece is surrounded on three sides. Don't be bothered by the horizontal fissures (lenures) in the cheese's interior near the rind. These are natural and are always found in Comte.
Use Comte anytime, any waymelt it, cube it, julienne it. However you treat it, know that Comte is a classic, all-purpose winner-as appropriate with salami and bread for lunch as it is an elegant after-dinner treat with fruit and any wine of your choosing.
Comte is superb as a snacktry it grated or thinly sliced on bread, toasted, and topped off with a twist of freshly ground black pepper. It is also excellent as a salad cheesediced into the salad or served on the side.
Meet the Author
Steve Jenkins grew up in Columbia, Missouri. Upon graduation from high school he moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting. That was in 1973. While waiting for his big break into show-biz, he took a job in a cheese store. After a year he became manager, but he found retail rote; two years and a couple of minor soap opera roles later, he was fired for telling the owner he was in the store when he was actually in his apartment. Jenkins then met Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca, and became their first employee. He created a new sensory experience by liberating cheese from the confines of a refrigerator case at the now legendary Dean & DeLuca specialty food shop. He built pyramids of cheese atop the counter using hundreds of pounds of orange, rock-hard, aged Goudas. He used slabs of Carrara marble and wooden cutting boards to display Bries and heaped Pillivuyt porcelain souffle dishes with fresh goat cheese sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with olive oil. The more Steven learned about cheese, the more he realized that this country was sorely lacking in its selection of truly great cheeses. So he went to France in search of "real" cheese. On his return, his shipments from Rungis began to arrivecheese the likes of which had never been tasted before in New York. Real Brie from Brie, and real Camembert from Normandy. The next six years he traveled frequently throughout the cheese-producing regions of France, Switzerland and Italy. Jenkins has created and/or revamped the cheese counters at Dean & DeLuca, the Fairway Market, Balducci's, and other celebrated fine food shops in New York and across the country. He has rejoined the Fairway Market. Jenkins was the first American to be awarded France's prestigious Chevalier du Taste Fromage and is frequent contibutor to Food Arts, Food & Wine, and the Gourmet Retailer. Since the publication of Cheese Primer in November 1996, Steve Jenkins has become a regular commentator on the National Public Radio Program The Splendid Table, and he was the recipient of the prestigious James Beard Award in the reference category for this book.
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There has never been an imported cheese I have encountered at any gourmet market in any US city that was not written up comprehensively in this tome. I am thoroughly impressed and use this book as a reference often! It never fails me.
Easily the greatest cheese reference I have ever read. You will simply not find a more complete and comprehensive cheese compendium out there. Steven Jenkins is the undisputed master of all that is Cheese. This is the first and last Cheese book you will ever need.
I love cheese, but this book actually got me excited about cheese. It is an amazing, passionate reference from someone who isn't afraid to say what's good and what's bad.
If you love cheese!