Monday, 8 November 2010

Cheese of the Month - Comté


There was a time when I was patient and tolerant enough to spend my Saturday afternoons at Borough Market. I would happily take twenty minutes shuffling between the hordes of day trippers from the Ginger Pig to Brindisa to the Flour Station, and I remember I actually used to enjoy the experience, if not the often frankly ludicrous prices ("£12 for a jar of capers? I'll take two!"). Now though, whether it's the novelty wearing off after six or seven years living in London, or the fact that most of the people at Borough seem to be more interested in gawping at the artfully arranged produce than actually buying anything, or perhaps a combination of the two, I'm finding my patience rather more stretched. A couple of weeks ago I found myself surrounded by a semicircle of fascinated tourists as I bought some prawns from a fish stall - they seemed genuinely delighted that someone was actually at Borough to buy their dinner, and watched silently as I self-consciously selected a dozen or so Madagascan Kings and fished around in my wallet for change. When the transaction was complete I almost felt like taking a bow. Very bizarre - and faintly depressing.

It has to be noted, however, that part of the reason that Borough is so popular is that, all said and done, there are some very good traders there. Brindisa are the only company that import such a stunning range and quality of Iberico hams, Ginger Pig sell quite simply the best beef in Britain, and I have the Borough Cheese Company to thank for my obsession with Comté cheese, which has been making regular appearances on my cheeseboards since I first tried it on my first ever visit to the market all those years ago.


It's easy to forget that not all interesting, artisan cheese has to blow your tastebuds away with an Epoisses-like power or Roquefort levels of salty intensity. Unlike some of the more pungent or challenging cheeses, I am convinced there isn't a lactose-tolerant person in the world who wouldn't enjoy a good Comté. The flesh is fairly firm, with a pleasant bite to it even when at room temperature, and a wonderful nutty, subtly sweet flavour with all the complexity you'd expect of an unpasteurised product. Although there are slight variations in quality ("grades"), unless the cheese passes a particular taste test it is not allowed, under the French AOC laws (which also specify the type of cow - Monbeliard, seen above - whose milk it uses and the minimum maturation period), to call itself Comté so you can be fairly sure that whenever you do see it for sale it will not disappoint.

The only concern you may rightly have is whether it's worth braving the hordes at Borough to pick some up. Fortunately, it's fairly widely available at decent cheese shops in London (and I've even spotted it in Waitrose) so you shouldn't struggle too much finding some, but the kind people behind a recent PR drive to get Comté more widely known in Britain have recently set up a website listing some stockists. I can also add Hamish Johnston on Northcote Road to that list, who generally have some in. So wherever you find yours, remember to bring it to room temperature first (this applies to most cheese but the subtle nutty flavours of Comté really only work properly when it's warm) and enjoy this accessible artisan product at its very best.

8/10

I was sent this sample of Comté to try. The PR company have set up a Facebook fan page so you can even become an virtual "fan" of the cheese from the comfort of your own home.

16 comments:

Jessica said...

Borough - isn't it just - back when I was a freelancer (/unemployed) it was quite a joy to go down on a Thursday, if you could dodge the camera crews and wannabe TV chefs. Saturday is unbearable though and relatively pointless unless you dose up on the mulled cider beforehand. Have you tried Maltby Street market? Borough Cheese Co park up there too but DON'T TELL ANYONE: http://www.maltbystreet.com/

(oops)

Manne said...

Without a doubt my favourite cheese. And no need to go all the way to Borough, as you say, it is indeed available at Waitrose.

Pavel said...

Sadly it those bloody crowds that put me off as well, you should try the Broadway Market in Hackney. Le Eau De Bouche is a fantastic little cheese stall I think you'd like.

Lizzie said...

I do love a comte.

Even though I live about 10 minutes away it's rare I go to Borough Market. I prefer it in the winter when there's less people and more mulled cider...

Kavey said...

I adore Comte!
Well aged, it's a truly wonderful cheese and one I buy often.
Most commonly I get mine from Waitrose, they seem to look after their cheeses pretty well, in my opinion.
If you like this, have you tried Coolea, available at Neal's Yard Dairy? I first tried this only recently (someone bought some along to a blogger evening) and have bought it a couple of times since. Love it!

Going With My Gut said...

I'd say the only reason I still go to Borough Market is freshly shucked oysters & clams by Richard Hayworth. Other than that I much prefer the FARMA-facilitated farmers markets http://www.lfm.org.uk/. If you live in Borough's hood your closest one is probably Bermondsey. New, small, lovely local produce, not crazy busy, but I believe on a good trajectory.

Wen

Krista said...

Stop...you're making me homesick!

Get to Borough before 11. You'll be fine. I never made it Ally Pally, but I hear their market is really good and no camera-touting tourists.

Brad said...

Sounds fantastic. Yet another reason (as if I needed it) to stop by La Fromagerie on my way home from work.

federilli said...

Ah I LOVE Comte' and yes, I also tried it the first time at Borough and I totally agree with you on the crowds. I think I have become agoraphobic actually. It's 5 mins walk from my office so if I need anything (for example spices) I go thursdays...

Ginger Pig - lucky to have branch locally here!

slicktony3000 said...

A few weeks back the Guardian published a little guide about how to eat good cheap food as a student. One of the places it recommend that students should go for cheap fare was - I shit ye not - Borough Market.

Don't get me wrong - I work five minutes away and go frequently for fish, caerphilly, unnecessary sweet things etc. But rarely do I come away without thinking at least some stall holders are taking advantage of people in their pricing. Just one example: I saw a loaf of bread for sale last week for EIGHT POUNDS! How can any market trader justify selling a loaf at more than the hourly minimum wage? Fair pricing will sustain the market in the longer; mickey taking will turn the market into even more of a theme park for city workers and tourists than it already is.

Greedy Diva said...

I love comte. The Fernandez & Wells wine bar in Soho is a nice place to stop for a glass of wine with the comte and manchego platter.

Michelle @ Roasted said...

I totally agree with your thoughts on Borough Market. I came to London three years ago with ideas that I would head there on my weekends to peruse the items and pick up some exciting products to cook with. Now the thought of going there makes my stomach swirl. The crowds, people just staring at the food and taking photos, and the prices.... It's an in and out affair if I really need something.

inboroughmarket said...

@inboroughmarket would like to share a secret ... come on Friday :)

or sunday ... when you can have the market to yourself

hehehe

Patrick said...

I find the market useful if I have to go to Monmouth, Brindisa and the Ginger Pig at the same time but otherwise the crowds are too much. Also my local butcher in Greenwich sells some of the same chorizo that Brindisa sells for about 30% less.

As Krista said I used to find going before 11am ok but even now at 9am on a Saturday it's rammed. Also I've never understood the amount of Spanish and Italian tourists taking pictures of the fruit and veg - you'd think the markets they have back home are far better.

I've also things about Maltby Street - Jose Pizarro often mentions it on Twitter - but haven't made it along yet.

tori said...

Have only been here in London for two months and live just up the road from the markets- the location of which were a main attraction of the flat! Oh how soon I've turned. Thursdays and Fridays are delightful. But on Saturdays after 10.30 I've learned to give it a wide berth.

Anonymous said...

A little jaded on tourists, no? The food market is the FIRST place I'd go to when in a foreign city, and would hope not to be expected to buy prawns if staying in a hotel...