Not that there's anything wrong with Gruyère. It's kind of the best cheese ever. But sometimes, just so that you don't feel the doldrums that come with a cheese rut, here's an option for a cheese that can most confidently act in its place. And it's just about everywhere you can find Gruyère, too!
Have you heard of Comté?
I love it. But somehow, and for no good reason, I never seem to remember it in the imposing faces of the other great mountain cheeses like Gruyère, Appenzeller, and Emmenthaler.
Comté, pronounced "com-tay" and made with raw cow milk in the Franche-Comté (go figure) region of France, is actually also known as "Gruyère de Comté." Seems like I'm not the only one who can't seem to divorce the two cheeses. But Comté can most certainly stand on its own. Each wheel can weigh up to 120 pounds alone! It's imposing not only in size, but also in flavor.
I do find it slightly more mild than some of those biting, almost stinging Swiss cheeses of the same family. Comté is eggy and rich, with a straight-up, unapologetically butter flavor. It smells sweet, melts beautifully, and my word does it pair majestically with some cornichons!
Comté has an history all its own, too. It's an AOC, or government name protected cheese, and its production dates back to the 12th century. The milk for Comté is traditionally summer milk, and interestingly enough, especially to the revelers of this particular cheese, the same milk used for Comte production is used for Vacherin Mont D'Or cheese in the winter. (Now that's a cheese deserving of air time. But we're in the wrong season... wait for winter.)
Unlike many other of its style, Comté has no holes. Instead, its paste is endlessly smooth and quite firm. "Toothsome" would probably be the industry word to best describe its hefty structure. It's one of those versatile pairing cheeses, as well. Beer, wine, and spirits would all make friendly partners, but if you want to stick regional, it's excellent with white wine from its place of origin, like a Jura chardonnay or a French cider.
This summer, try it on burgers, or with anything else that's had its fill of Gruyère.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.