|Cheese is a direct product of the significant amount of stock-breeding there is in Jura, and the dairy industry represents a major proportion of the regions economy. This used to be a family industry, which evolved in step with that of stock-breeding during the 19C. It grew more refined with more rigorous selection of stock, rationalization of working methods, modernization of equipment and by professional organization of the dairy industry from family cooperatives to associations and finally to companies. Nowadays, a professional cheese-maker will usually rent a cheese dairy (fruitière) in one of the villages, buy in his milk and sell the finished product on; warehouses for maturing cheese have been set up in larger towns and cities.
Cooperative cheese dairies: The production of Comté Gruyère cheese is one of the major industries on which the economy of this region depends. This production is based on the fruitière, or cooperative cheese dairy, formed by the milk producers of one or more villages. This is one of the oldest and most traditional features of life in the Jura. A cooperatively made cheese, froumaige de fructères (fromage de fruitière), was being produced in the Doubs uplands in as early as 1264. Cooperative production was essential in areas where adverse weather conditions frequently made travelling difficult, if not impossible during winter. The number of cows per producer is tending to increase (10 to 20, and sometimes more), and the amount of milk produced by each cow is almost 876 gallons on average for every 300 days lactation. It takes 131 gallons of milk to make a 165lb Comté Gruyère cheese.
At milking time, you still see women, children and the occasional man heading towards the cooperative dairy, carrying their milk in buckets, milk-cans, on the back of a donkey, in hand-carts or dog-carts, or even using more up-to-date means such as trailers pulled by tractors or motorcycles, or in small vans. In times gone by, the very basic modes of transport limited the dairys catchment area and consequently the number of members of the cooperative, which was never more than fifty. Nowadays, however, the system for collecting milk has tended to favor larger cheese dairies, leaving the smaller ones to decline in numbers. Nonetheless, the traditional twice daily milk delivery has to survive, as it is fundamental to a certain quality of cheese.
How Comté cheese is made: Comté is a registered product subject to quality control. The cheese is made from the milk of Montbéliard stock or red and white cows from the east of France, which have been fed exclusively on grass and hay. The milk is skimmed of 5-15% of its cream content to produce a cheese which has a fat content of about 48-50g per 100g of dry mass. The milk is then poured into huge copper cauldrons, with a capacity of 177, 311 or 555 gallons, where it is heated to about 90°F and curdled with rennet. It is then drained, and the curds are beaten and heated to between 129-133°F, put into a linen cloth, placed into a mould and then pressed. The resulting round of cheese can weigh up to 88-1101b. The cheese is put into a cold cellar for a few days, where it is salted and rubbed to speed up the formation of the rind. After this, the maturing process begins. The cheese is kept for three to nine months maximum in a cellar, initially at a temperature of 60-65°F for two months, and thereafter at between 5O-54°F. The rind is rubbed with a cloth soaked in salt solution to encourage the growth of the moulds which give the Comté cheese its characteristic hazelnut flavor.
The uninitiated believe that the more holes there are in a Gruyère cheese, the better it is. However, this is certainly not the case with Comté. The finest, richest Comté cheese is that with no (or at least, very few) holes.
Other cheeses: Morbier cheese comes from Morez and the surrounding area, while the blue cheese Bleu de Haut-Jura comes from Septmoncel and Gex. Vacherin or Mont dOr is a soft cheese made during the winter in the region of Champagnole, which was already being savored in Levier in the 13C. Since 1917, factories at Lons-le-Saunier and Dole have been manufacturing various processed cheeses based on pasteurized pressed cheeses (Emmenthal, Gruyère, Comté), pasteurized non-pressed cheeses (Cheddar, Gouda, St-Paulin and Cantal) and blue cheeses (Roquefort, Bleu), and in the manufacture of which other dairy products such as butter, cream and milk may be used.
Excepted from Burgundy-Jura (Michelin® Green Guide) 1995.