A wee bit more science for you, on the famous French cheese of Comté (Gruyère style). Appellation controlled, the production and first four months of affinage happen in the Franche-Comte region of France. It then arrives with us at Mons.
To show you how different affinage can affect the final flavour can be seen very clearly with two examples we have in the cave at the moment. One has been kept at about 7°-8°C, the other 12°-14°C. The cheese at the lower temperature is actually older, but the other cheese has far more flavour. The reason for this is the temperature; the lower temperature is perfect for protein breakdown but is too low for propionic fermentation, which is essential to fully develop the flavour of Comté. The warmer cheese was kept at the lower temperature for the first month of its life then put at a higher temperature to allow the propionic bacteria to develop the flavour, leading to a more rounded, complex final taste.
The reason why Hervé Mons takes the cheeses as young as he can (four months) rather than leave it with the affineurs in the area, is so he can control this process. And he cannot just take any cheese. Each day’s production from each farm is tasted so we can determine which will age the best to develop the finest flavours – we then take that whole batch. As Mons age at higher temperatures than most, several farms’ production of Comté age too fast because of the types of ferment they use and their individual production process, so we also have to know that before we choose.
Then the cheese arrives. It’s weighed and put in the cave. At Mons each cheese is turned and dealt with individually by hand, rather than by machine. Although more expensive (and back breaking!), it means that instead of treating every cheese the same, we can react to each cheese as it develops differently and at different speeds. This week for the same batch of Comté, some were just turned, others brushed, some washed with a special solution, some floured and a few dry-salted and wiped, according to how they were developing – leading to a more consistent higher quality.
Now, imagine this is one example of over 150 cheeses we affine here, that’s some knowledge you have to got to have – no wonder being an affineur is a trade for life! Although some techniques are similar; every cheese is in reality treated differently to bring out its best flavour; a knowledge and skill that I’m slowly picking up