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Say Cheese: Comte

A classic not be overlooked. (Domenica Marchetti)

With so many fanciful new cheeses available — dusted with spices, spiked with herbs, rolled into eye-catching cones or patted into pyramids — it can be awfully easy forget about the classics.

Usually, though, the golden oldies have been around with good reason. Alpine cheese makers in France near the Swiss and German borders have been producing Comté for 1,000 years, literally since the days when Charlemagne ruled the Holy Roman Empire. Beneath its pebbly brown rind, the cheese is a rich golden ivory-color, especially if it has been aged longer than six months.

The proper name for this wonderful, mellow melting cheese is Gruyère de Comté, and yes, it is related to Swiss Gruyère, the classic fondue cheese, which is made just across the border (a border that did not exist during Charlemagne’s reign). I may be in the minority, but I happen to prefer Comté to Gruyere. It has less of a bite than its Swiss cousin; to me it is silkier in texture and tastes nuttier, with an appealing caramel finish.

In his book "The Cheese Primer," author and cheese expert Steven Jenkins writes: “It’s hard to come home with a less than perfect piece of Comté, one of the most enjoyable cheeses imaginable.” The cheese is produced not in large factories, but in about 300 small dairies known as fruitières, each of which turns out only about six to seven 80-pound wheels a day. The wheels are sold to companies that age the cheese according to rules established by the fruitières. The only caution that Jenkins offers is to avoid buying any piece that shows more than a half-inch of darkened color between the rind and the interior paste, which is an indication that the cheese is too dry. It should be silky and smooth, neither crumbly nor waxy.

I appreciate Comté for its versatility. It is delicious on plain or rye crackers and also melted on thinly sliced baguette. I sprinkle shredded Comté over fried or shirred eggs and on vegetable gratins. It is at home in onion soup and as part of a fruit-and-cheese platter.

And, of course, it is the perfect cheese for quiche. Right now, with farmers markets brimming with chard, turnip and beet greens, these are the vegetables I am featuring in my quiche. Later in the season, zucchini and other summer squashes, colorful peppers, and meaty tomatoes will all take their turn. Happily, Comté goes beautifully with every one of them.
-- Domenica Marchetti

Rainbow Chard and Comté Quiche
8 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The dough for the crust needs 30 minutes' refrigeration/resting time.

2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
About 6 tablespoons ice water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, cut into paper-thin slices
1 pound rainbow chard or a mix of greens, such as chard, kale or beet greens, or turnip greens, coarsely chopped or shredded
Kosher or sea salt
Crushed red pepper flakes
5 ounces (6 slices) smoky bacon, cut into small dice, fried in a skillet until almost crisp then drained on paper towels
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces Comte cheese, shredded (2 cups)

For the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor; pulse briefly.

Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the butter is broken into small pieces. With the motor running, add the water and process until the dough begins to clump together. (You may need to add a little less or a little more water, depending on the dryness of the flour.) Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and press it into a disk. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.

Lightly flour a work surface. Have ready a 9 1/2-inch quiche pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.

Roll the chilled disk of dough on the work surface into a large circle, about 15 inches in diameter, then carefully transfer the dough to the quiche pan or deep-dish pie plate, pressing the dough gently into the bottom and up the sides. Trim the overhang to about 1/2 inch and fold it in, pressing it against the inside rim to reinforce the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with beans or pie weights.

Place the pan or pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet; bake for 20 minutes. Carefully lift out the parchment paper and weights; use a fork to prick the shell on the bottom if it has puffed up, then return it to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until it is lightly browned on the inside. Transfer the pan or pie plate to a wire rack to cool.

Reduce the heat in the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling: Heat the oil and garlic in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the garlic starts to soften and barely sizzle. Do not let the garlic brown or it will become bitter.

Add a handful of greens, using tongs to stir them around to coat them with the oil. Cover and let the greens wilt for a few minutes. Add the remaining greens (by the handful) as those in the skillet begin to wilt. Uncover and add a sprinkle of salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the greens frequently until they are completely tender. Reduce the heat to medium-low as needed to prevent them from burning.

Once the greens are cooked, add the cooked bacon to the skillet; use tongs to incorporate. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
Whisk together the eggs and cream in a large bowl, then add a generous grind of black pepper. Add the cooked greens-bacon mixture and the Comté cheese; stir to mix well.

Return the pan or pie plate with the baked tart shell back to the baking sheet. Pour in the the filling. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the quiche filling is puffed and beautifully browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 650 calories, 18 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 51 g fat, 29 g saturated fat, 251 mg cholesterol, 428 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  June 16, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, cheese  
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Wouldn't have thought of Comte as a summer cheese, but sounds like a great complement to chard.

Love the new focus on cheese!

Colleen (

Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | June 16, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

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