Back in 2017 I attended a tasting at Cheese 2017 in Bra about alpine cheese. Paired with Franciacorta brut, by the way, which appeared to be a very favourable pairing. There also arouse an interesting discussion about age and flavour profiles of alpine cheeses, the essence being that the older the better is not necessarily true. That said taste is personal, while some like the fruit of the young cheeses others enjoy the caramel of the really well matured. Below I have tried to create a guide for Comté which I believe also can be true for Gruyère and other similar cheeses.
Comté and other alpine cheeses are firm cheeses that is made from raw cow’s milk in the alpine regions of France, Switzerland, Italy mainly, but also Austria. This style of alpine cheese is aged for varying lengths of time, ranging from a few months to several years, and during this time, it develops a unique flavour profile.
When Comté is young, it has a mild, buttery flavour with a slightly nutty and fruity taste. As it ages, the flavor becomes more complex and intense, developing a range of flavours and aromas. Some of the key changes in flavour that occur with age include:
- Nuttiness: As the cheese ages, the nutty flavour becomes more pronounced, and the cheese takes on a slightly sweet, caramelized taste.
- Fruity notes: Comté cheese often has a fruity taste, which becomes more pronounced with age. The cheese may develop flavours of apricot, pineapple, and even cherry.
- Earthiness: As the cheese ages, it develops an earthy flavour, similar to mushrooms or truffles.
- Umami: Umami is the savory flavour that is often described as meaty or brothy. As Comté cheese ages, it develops a rich, umami flavour that can be quite strong in older cheeses.
- Crystallisation: Another notable change in flavour with age is the development of small crystals within the cheese. These crystals, called tyrosine, form as the cheese dries out and become more prominent in older cheeses. They add a crunchy texture and a slightly sweet, nutty flavour to the cheese.
Overall, the flavour of Comté style alpine cheese evolves and becomes more complex with age. While younger cheeses may be mild and buttery, older cheeses have a range of flavours that can be quite intense and rich.
So is there an ideal age for alpine cheese?
The ideal age for an alpine cheese will probably be subjective and depending on personal preference. However, many cheese experts consider Comté style cheese to be at its best between 12 and 18 months of age.
At this age, the cheese has developed a complex and intense flavour profile, with a balance of nuttiness, fruitiness, and earthiness. The texture of the cheese is also ideal, with a firm yet supple texture that is not too dry or too creamy.
That being said, some people may prefer younger Comté style cheese for its milder flavour and softer texture, while others may enjoy older cheeses for their strong and complex flavours. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and what flavour and texture profile you enjoy the most.
And in my opinion?
My personal alpine cheese favourite is an 18 months old Comté. It has fruit, just enough sweetness without any overpowering and has not yet developed caramel flavours. I am not a big fan.