All things cheese in France

Monday, 31 January 2011

More Comté Joy and La Percée du Vin Jaune

For you fans of Comté, a great pairing is always the wine that comes from the same region the cheese is made - the Jura. The marriage of Comté and le Vin jaune (yellow wine) is the penultimate match. Certain aromas like dried citrus fruits, walnuts and curry, found in the wine are similar to those in a good vieux (aged) Comté, which explains the amazing accord between the two. It is quite astounding as a matter of fact! 

That being said, it is pretty hard to find outside of the area, but there is a festival held each year in February called La Percée du Vin Jaune (The Opening of the Yellow Wine) that gives people the opportunity to experience the newly released vintage in situ. The crucial piece of information about this rare wine is that legal requirements for aging mean that the vintage being sampled will be from the autumn harvest seven years earlier. Tasting sessions take place in a different regional village each year and have attracted over 30,000 visitors to imbibe this gem.

So what is this wine le Vin Jaune ?  It is a white wine produced in Eastern France, specifically the Jura.  It is similar to dry fino or Amontillado sherry but it isn't a fortified wine like sherry.  It is made from a late harvest Savagnin grape which grows in the area. The wine gets its character from being matured in barrels under a film of yeast, known as the voile, (the veil) which develops on the wine's surface. This is sort of like the "flor" in Sherry production, and takes between two to three years to develop. The characteristic yellow colour and nutty flavours of the wine develop as it oxidizes and ages in the barrel. Some of the most premium examples coming from the marl based vineyards in the Château-Chalon AOC. In other French wine regions, notably Gaillac, vintners have been experimenting with similar style wines made from Chardonnay and other local grape varieties using cultured yeast.

The Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) regions permitted to produce vin jaune include Château-Chalon AOC, Arbois Vin Jaune AOC, Cotes du Jura vin Jaune AOC and Vin Jaune de L'Etoile.  Some adventurous winemakers in Gaillac have produced the vin de voile wine, which is similar in style but made mainly from Chardonnay grapes and cultured yeast. 

Other pairings suggested are:

Whites "floral" wines:  These work especially well with vieux Comté but also with the more lactic based younger ones highlighting their butter, caramel aromas.

Red wines:  Vieux Comté pairs very well with red wines of the Jura called the Rubis du Jura which are lighter in structure with a high degree of finesse.

Sparkling wines: A grand harmony is created between crumbly texture and mellow flavours of Comté and the Crémant du Jura (sparkling wines of the Jura), which tend towards the sweeter side of sparkling wines.


Casse-croûte de copains aux morilles et Comté

8 large slices of pain de campagne (Polaine for instance)
100 g of dried morels
250 g de Comté grated
5 cl de Vin Jaune
25 cl cream
40 g de butter
1 shallot, chopped fine
Salt, pepper & some branches of chives

Soak the dried morels (or other dried mushrooms) half an hour in hot water. Cut each of them in half lengthwise to clean them. Drain well. Sauté the chopped shallot in 20 g butter, then the mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add the cream and reduce heat to low and add the grated cheese and wine.

Preheat the oven to grill at 210 ° C (gas mark 7). Fry the bread slices in 20 g of butter on both sides. Then spread each slice with the morel and Comté cream, which must be very smooth. Toast the bread in the oven until golden brown. Sprinkle a few chopped chives and serve hot. Suggested Wine: These toasts with the Vin Jaune wine  (pour 8 friends)

Recipe from :

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Gardeners or slaves of France - The life of French milk farmers today

The reporter extraordinaire Harry Roselmack from TF1 (French TV), provided a look into the dire status of the independant French milk farmers with his show on January 25th - Harry Roselmack avec les résistants du monde paysan (Harry Roselmack with the Peasant Resistance). He spent several weeks with a group of diary farmers from the region of Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany to better understand their life, the hardships they face and the little publicized fact that suicide amongst them are soaring, with more than 400 dead per year and many giving up their ancestral farms because they can not continue to pay to work on them.

The gist of the program was the paradox that while these farmers, once respected as 'les jardiniers (gardeners) de la France' providing food for the country,  they frequently can barely provide for their families.  They now believe they have become nothing more than 'les esclaves (slaves) de la France'. These people work 12 - 18 hour days, 7 days a week with rarely any time off and no benefits.  Prices for their production fell more than 30% in one year, all while operating expenses tripled. To wake up every day knowing you will once again be in the red, can not be easy, and yet being a farmer is not a job, it is a way of life, so difficult to give up.

This life is a far cry from the cushy one, as one of these farmers called it, enjoyed by those workers who populate the ranks of France's syndicats (unions). To hear one farmer say he would be 'thrilled if he could at least earned the SMIC (minimum wage)' was pretty heartbreaking.  It was worst to know that a huge percentage of them are and have not been profitable for years and borrow money just to keep their animals feed.  And with the price of milk not keeping pace with the cost of operation, large numbers of these farmers are being forced to give up their farms, many having been past down for generations; the statistics were pretty grim. In 2000, there were 120,000 milk farmers in France, today there are only 85,000.

This year, the drought has created yet more difficulties for them and even with the recent augmentation in the cost per litre, they will continue to live well below the poverty line. To be sure, it is a complicated situation, one that is similar, I am sure in other industrialized countries. The milk producers are at the bottom of the pile, with the cooperatives or processors and then the distributors above them. But the large cooperatives, who produce the milk products made five times what the average farmer made last year, so it begs the question of fairness.

The frustration of these proud people was palpable. A group of them have decided to revolt against this system of pricing that does not take into account the reality of their work production.  Four of them went on a hunger strike late last year with the hope of calling attention to their plight.  Try and find a link to have news of their status...good luck. The press largely ignores them, until of course they decide to dump their milk in the streets in front of a ministry. No wonder they feel no one is either listening nor cares, least of all the consumer or politicans.

An equitable resolution of what is fair for the producer all the way up to the consumer is the question. But as one farmer said, those who govern need to understand that the old adage of 'Le paysan ne cri pas quand il y en mal, il meurt en silence parce qu’il a la dignité (the peasant doesn't cry out when they hurt, they die in silence because they have dignity) was no longer going to be the case. The slaves of France were going to rise up and demand their respected place in the country and be paid fairly for their labours.  On verra...

Note Bene:  The look on Harry's beautiful face while two farmers at 1 in the morning were trying to pull a new calf out of the womb of it's mother, with great difficulty, was priceless.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Wrapping Cheese - The Professional Way

© 2010 CheeseToast Inc.
Even before I worked in a cheese shop, I wanted to know how to wrap cheese...perfectly & professional.  A recent article in Culture Magazine - Wrap Like A Pro regarding this very subject arrived  with instructive pictures! 

There also is a link to formaticum the people who make great cheese paper in the US which has a video and while no professional fromager in France would ever use tape, it is worth checking their site out.   
Pyramids, cylinders, rounds, triangles & asymmetricals (the hardest of shapes)  -  They're all here in this great article. It is an art, one that must be practiced to be learned and perfected. So for those of you that are into precision and flawlessness, this article is your ticket.  

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Since the 12th century deep in the Jura mountains where winters are long and harsh, local inhabitants have made the celebrated cheese - Comté, as a way to conserve their milk production.  Awarded its AOC in 1958, the fame of Comté, its economic importance for the area and terroir have become emblematic of the region of the Jura, parts of the Doubs and a small portion of Ain.  

Made exclusively from milk of the Montbéliard race, each cheese is awarded a score out of 20 according to overall appearance, quality of rind, internal appearance, texture and taste. Those scoring 15 or above are given green casein labels (with the characteristic image of a bell) and may be called 'Comté extra', those with 12-15 being given brown labels and simply called 'Comté'. Any cheese scoring under 3 marks for taste, or under 12 overall is prohibited from being named Comté.  Ageing is from 4 to 24 months with some famous affineurs such as Bernard Anthony holding out for the truly sublime at 36 and 48 months (with a price tag to match).

There is an incredible diversity of taste in Comté. Some are more salty than others, some are very sweet, very milky, others very rich roasted flavor, but always with subtle aromas for each bouquet. There are summer and winter Comté of course. The first is distinguished by its yellow pate and is much more intense than the second, which is pale ivory. The subtlety of flavors of a winter Comté are full of the smells of fresh hay while summer Comté is full of the scent of high meadows full of flowers and herbs.  There are six aroma families for this wonderful cheese:

Lactic : the smell of milk and various dairy products
Fruity : the smells of fruit and also of honey, and  floral odors.

Roasted empyreumatic : the word empyreumatic is from the Greek pyros meaning fire and these aromas are of caramelized, roasted milk.
Vegetal : the smells of  vegetables, fresh or dried plants, humus.
Animal : the smell related to egg yolk, leather and barnyards.
Spicy : the different smells of spices and flavours such as vanilla, nutmeg, pepper.

The nabob of food bloggers, David Lebovitz has penned two recent blogs on the making of Comté :  Comté Cheese Making and Comté Cheese Ripening and Tasting.  As always in his amusing and infectious style, he provides beautiful photographs and tons of information including how he flipped his car in the snow during his visit!  I highly recommend it as it is well worth reading.  

You can also check out the official website : Comté  In French but it has an English version.