What do you do with an 80-lb. wheel of absolutely fresh, ripe Comté that is right out of the cave? You cut it, of course...and that's just what the charming Daphne Zepos of Essex St. Cheese Company did with the able assistance of Foster & Dobbs resident cheese-rassler Luan Schooler.
We were there to witness this traditional event as part of a class on Comté and Mountain Cheeses that was taught by Zepos, an importer of hand-picked and aged Comté from France. The other featured cheeses consisted of a Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin and a Gruyere and an Appenzeller from the Jura region of France. We got the skinny on the making and shaping of the various wheels, and how they're transported down the mountains (think backpack and you'll be close). Some larger wheels can weigh as much as 120 lbs. and have concave sides so they can be lowered with ropes on wooden ramps.
Zepos, one of the few women in her profession, has had to prove herself to the all-male club of French affineurs, or experts in the aging of cheese. She told a story that at Fort Saint Antoine, Claude Querry, the head affineur, once mixed up the order of tasting to see if she would still be able to pick the cheeses from her favorite dairies (she did).
It was a great night and it was a privilege to meet someone as passionate as Zepos is about her cheeses. What a great job!