Say Cheese!

Franche-Comtè Region of France

Carole Kotkin is a syndicated Miami Herald food columnist and co-author of “MMMMiami – Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.” She is also the manager of The Cooking School at The Ocean Reef Club, food editor for “The Wine News” magazine, and co-host of “Food and Wine Talk” on

In 1962, Charles de Gaulle remarked, “How can you be expected to govern a nation that has 246 kinds of cheese?”

Today, there are roughly 500 kinds of cheeses in France. And although the increased popularity of “fromage” has brought about a boom in industrial cheese production in France, small family-run creameries are turning out exquisite fragrant, full flavored artisanal cheese. Recently, while visiting the Franche-Comté region of France, I marveled at the fact that one can still buy a food that has been made in the same way in the same place for a thousand years.

Comté cheese, made by craftspeople whose lives are bound to cheese-making, is indelibly linked to the land and its tradition. It is nutty, rich and with 45 percent fat, ideal for melting. And, nowhere is it put to better use than in fondue: Comté cheese melted in a pot with white wine, and seasoned with garlic and pepper, and perhaps a dash of kirsch (cherry brandy). Served as it is at La Petite Échelle in a remote and peaceful meadow 3,700 feet high in the Jura mountains, as a dip for chunks of bread or small boiled potatoes, it rates as one of the great regional delicacies of a nation that is filled with them.

The region’s unique wines all pair very well with Comtè, among them a dry – not white, but yellow – wine called vin jaune; a red wine that resembles rose and is called both Plousard and Poulsard; a slightly sweet, pale wine called savagnin; and an excellent dessert wine known as vin de paille, straw wine.

Recently I traveled along the winding roads of Franche-Comté past herds of Montbeliarde cows (the breed used in the production of Comté) to experience Comté cheese at its source. This region of eastern France on the border of Switzerland, just where the Jura mountains start their upward climb, is an undiscovered and essentially unknown area to tourists. Yet it’s a place of gentle, rolling farmland, magnificent old farmhouses, clear-blue lakes and rivers, and villages so pretty that if it were, say, in Burgundy (only about an hour away), it would be buzzing with tourists.

My first stop was La Maison du Comté in the lovely medieval town of Poligny for a short film on the cheese making process and a tasting of several aged Comtés. I learned the differences the seasons make in color, aroma, texture and taste. Next, I visited the small village of Bouverans to discover the secrets of the fruitière (cheese making house), where Tas Marmier is one of 175 fruitières who make Comté in the region.

Visit anybody involved with the Comté cheese industry or the production of Jura wines, and their passion and enthusiasm makes you realize why these products have left such a mark on the culture of France. This area is most definitely worth visiting before the rest of the world discovers it.

Where to Eat

Chateau du Mont Joly in Sampans
Phone 33 3 84 83 43 43.
Chef Romuald Fassenet (far right) earned a Michelin star for his creative and delicious cuisine. Fassenet shows a sure hand and an inventive touch with seafood such as lobster three-ways; and his flawless technique is apparent with duck marinated in honey and spices.

Hotel “Le Lac”
Phone 33 3 81 69 34 80.
Delicious regional specialties with a contemporary twist are served in a lovely room.

La Petite Échelle, Rochejean
Phone 011-33 (0)3 8149 9340
Open May 1 through October 30.,
Fondues, roesti potatoes, and fruit tarts are the bill of fare. Its owner (above, left), a shepherd, cooks rustic meals for hikers and guests.

Auberge du Grapiot, Rue Bagier, 39600 Pupillin
Phone 03-84 37 49 44.
Regional food and wines in rustic setting.

Where to Stay

Chateau du Mont Joly in Sampans
Phone 33 3 84 83 43 43.
Brand new and sparkling with modern décor and warm hospitality. The hotel is elegant and efficient; a place where visitors really feel at home.

Hotel “Le Lac”
Phone 33 3 81 69 34 80.
Family owned hotel with lovely lake views and spacious rooms.

La Domaine du Moulin de la Vallée Heureuse, in Poligny R.N.5 – Route de Geneve – 39800 POLIGNY
Phone 03 84 37 12 13.
Originally an 18th century mill, the residence stands on the Wine Route and offers a romantic garden and nearly 5 acres of parkland. Stroll through the grounds to discover the trout stream, 3 panoramic terraces, a heated swimming pool and a second indoor pool.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email