I love to use the dark rye bread, called pumpernickel, for this – its dense texture and deep flavour goes wonderfully with younger Comté. It’s easy to make your own pickled vegetables*, such as cucumbers or beetroot, but shop-bought ones are absolutely fine.
- Lightly toast the pumpernickel – you want to bring out the nutty flavours of the bread, but not burn it.
- Smear over a little mayonnaise and mustard on one side of the pumpernickel, lay a slice of ham on each, then a slice of Comté and finally top with sliced pickles, or serve them whole on the side.
* It’s simple to ferment your own vegetables and a wonderful way to use what’s in season. For most basic ferments, use about 20g to 40g of rough, large-grain sea salt (eg Maldon) in 1 litre of water, to make a 2% to 4% brine (a 4% brine makes a very salty pickle, which is perfect for cucumbers and courgettes, but use a less salty brine for root veg). You can flavour the brine by adding garlic cloves or a good pinch of black peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, dill seeds or dill flower heads. You can also add a couple of chillis or a few slices of onion.
To make the brine, boil the water, add the salt, then let it to cool to room temperature. In a clean Kilner jar, layer the chopped vegetables and spices. Once they reach the top, add the brine. If you can get hold of one, place a vine leaf on top – it releases tannins that keep the pickles crisp, but you could alternatively use a bit of cabbage. The aim is to stop the vegetables from floating to the surface and becoming exposed to the air, which turns them into compost rather than pickles.
Close the jar and leave it somewhere warm in the kitchen (cold will slow the fermenting process). Over the next few days, you will have to “burp” your jar as the bacteria that are starting the fermentation process build up carbon dioxide inside. To do this, gently tug the tab on the rubber seal, which will allow just enough gas to escape. If you can’t tug it easily, open the metal clasp while keeping pressure on the lid, then pull the seal. If you don’t burp the jar, you might find the contents will burst out.
The brine will start to go cloudy, which is a good thing; just keep burping the jar. After a week, the pickle flavours will start to develop; after two, they’ll start to taste good. At this point, put the jar in the fridge to slow the process, and start to enjoy your ferments. Don’t store them for ever – eat them up as they become ready.
Recipe © Laura Pope