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This month we have four cheeses from the cellars of Marcel Petite; an Affineur from the Jura Mountains who has supplied Sheridans with cheeses for fifteen years. The most famous of these cheeses and the one which is the most important to Marcel Petite and the Jura agriculture is of course Comté. Comté is also Sheridans and France’s most popular cheese! There are many qualities of Comté available from numerous producers and many affineurs and even Marcel Petite has a range to choose from. The quality is determined by several factors; most importantly where and when the cheese is made, and whether the Affineur matures the cheese at a higher temperature for a shorter period or chooses to allow a slow maturation which develops the flavour more subtly. Our Comté is made from summer milk when the famous Jura Montbelaird cows are grazing on fresh grass and they are matured for a minimum of 10 months in Petites ‘Fort Saint Antoine’ cellars. These vast cellars, housing 100,000 cheeses are built into the mountains where the cattle graze; here the cheeses are slowly and carefully matured each cheese tasted and graded. The result is a cheese with a gentle, rich and complex flavour.
Making these large wheels of cheese during the summer months when grass and milk is plentiful is an ancient tradition in this region; families have been pooling their milk to make these great cheeses for generations. The large wheels are hardy and long lasting, perfect for storing the goodness of summer milk for leaner times and also perfect for transportation to towns and cities. During the winter months when the cattle are in sheds and feeding on hay another tradition began; producing smaller softer cheeses; the Mont d’Or. We look forward every autumn to the arrival of this seasonal cheese, arriving in October and disappearing for another year in spring. Unlike its big brother Comté it is made in small wheels and not made to last; probably the cold weather was enough to protect this cheese in the winter months.
This is one of the greatest cheese producing regions of the world, not only for the quantity and quality produced but also the wonderful traditions which have been preserved. Our third cheese this month has a fantastic tradition at its formation. The story goes that when the cheesemaker was producing the large wheels of Comté there would always be a little curd left in the bottom of the vat, this cheese was put aside in a small mold and covered in some of the wood ash from the fire to protect it, when the evening cheeses were being made another layer of curd was added and then this cheese with a distinctive black strip of ash running through the centre was matured for the cheesemaker’s family. This cheese is still made and called Morbier. The last our cheeses from this region is less well known; Bleu de Gex. This is a wonderfully mild blue cheese, it also has quite an unusual texture for a blue cheese more like a Raclette and it is a wonderful cooking blue. Each of the cheeses are extremely versatile in cooking or as they are, enjoy!