Key Ingredient :: COMTE, Seattle Magazine December 2014
Le Pichet's Jim Drohman on His Love for Comté Cheese
Chef Jim Drohman of Le Pichet and Café Presse honors French tradition with Comté cheese
It’s safe to say that with two French restaurants, a Parisian culinary education and a country house in the Béarn, Jim Drohman is a Francophile at heart. So it comes as no surprise then that he relies on cheese as a foundational ingredient in his dishes, in particular, Comté. The firm Gruyère-like cheese, with a nutty, caramel flavor and a creamy texture, “is one of the pillars of French cooking, no matter where you are in France,” Drohman says.
Le Pichet, near Pike Place Market, serves traditional dishes such as soupe à l’oignon gratinée—a bowl of rich French onion soup capped with a slice of Comté that is broiled until browned. Here, the charred cheese has “a crustiness that plays against the sweetness of the onions and sherry,” Drohman says, “and the bitterness from the cheese gives an exaggeration of sweet and sour.”
At Café Presse in Capitol Hill, the kitchen works through two 90-pound wheels of Comté a week, due to the popularity of the croque monsieur (a glorified grilled cheese) and the baked eggs with ham, both of which highlight crusty, burned cheese edges. “Comté has a high fat [content],” Drohman says, “so the nice, melty, milky characteristics come out when it’s just melted.” The omelette au choix at Café Presse showcases Comté at its simplest.
Where to find it: “Know your cheesemonger,” Drohman instructs. For his personal use, he likes Pike Place Market favorites Quality Cheese (1508 Pike Place; 206.624.4029) and DeLaurenti (1435 First Ave.; 206.622.0141; delaurenti.com), plus The Calf and Kid in Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market (1531 Melrose Ave.; 206.467.5447; calfandkid.com) and Big John’s PFI in the International District (1001 Sixth Ave. S; 206.682.2002; bigjohnspfiseattle.com). Comté comes in a variety of flavor profiles (some are more fragrant, while others have a stronger, aged flavor), so it’s a matter of personal taste. Comté averages between $23 and $32 a pound.
Why you should try it: As Comté ages, salt crystals develop and the cheese turns dense, acquiring notes of butterscotch and caramel. The flavor is long in the mouth and it luxuriously coats the palate. It’s excellent in all manner of melting; a little goes a long way.
How to use it at home: In French onion soup, of course. (Find Jim Drohman’s recipe for French onion soup here.) Also with eggs—under the broiler, the Comté’s oils seep out and the cheese caramelizes and turns crusty, adding a bitter crunch to counter the richness of eggs. Tuck a small amount of diced Comté into gougère dough for a baked appetizer (see Amy Pennington’s recipe for kale gougères here). It is an excellent cheese for fondue, stuffed in winter squash and melted into gratins.
Le Pichet’s French Onion Soup Recipe
Chef/co-owner Jim Drohman serves this soup with 14-month cave-aged Comte cheese
For Le Pichet’s French onion soup (aka soupe a l’oignon gratinée or gratin lyonnais), chef/co-owner Jim Drohman uses at 14-month cave-aged Comté cheese, which has a strong, nutty flavor and smells slightly of the barnyard. On its own, the cheese is satisfying, but melted over a bowl of rich, French onion soup, it’s sublime. At Le Pichet and Café Presse, “duck jello” is added to the onion soup. Duck jello is the term Drohman uses to refer to the gelatin-rich duck juices that are left in the bottom of the pot when slow-cooking duck legs for confit. This sort of addition is typical of the French bistro kitchen, where nothing tasty is ever allowed to go to waste. Since most home cooks aren’t regularly cooking duck legs, use duck or chicken demi-glace, which can be purchased in small containers in stores, but which can also be left out of this recipe. Read more about Comte cheese here.
4 cloves garlic, germ removed
2 1/2 pounds yellow onions
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sherry
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
1/8 cup duck or chicken demi-glace, optional
Salt and black pepper
2 cups grated Comté cheese
8 slices rustic country bread, preferably day-old
Peel the onions and slice thinly. Slice the garlic thinly. Wash, dry and stem the thyme. Chop it finely.
Bake the slices of country bread on a sheet pan in a very low oven until dry and crispy.
In a large soup pot set over medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic with the butter, stirring often, until richly colored. Add the sherry, increase the heat and cook until the sherry is almost completely reduced. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add the thyme, bay leaf, chicken stock and duck demi-glace (if using) and bring to a simmer. Simmer to combine the flavors, about 20 minutes.
Carefully skim the soup to remove any fat. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Top first with the crouton and then with a nice layer of Comté cheese. Heat under the broiler until crusty and golden. Serve immediately.