Thistle Hill Farm has been a certified organic farm for over fifteen years. The farm was one of the first organic dairy farms to supply the Organic Cow of Vermont, now a part of Horizon. The farm, however, started out as a part time endeavor with 26 Hereford beef cows and vegetables. As the farm began to improve, beef did not hold the interest or complexity of dairy, and then, dairy alone, although far more profitable, proved not sustainable for our family and farm in the hills of Vermont.
In 1999 we went to Switzerland, where, following the advice and descriptions of Steven Jenkins in "Cheese Primer" (Workman Publishing, 1996), we visited almost every major cheesemaking region in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. Seeking a cheese which we loved, and matching as closely as possible the climate of Pomfret Vermont, our family of six found ourselves in Beaufort France, which had everything we needed: A coin operated laundromat and a cheese we knew we would like to get to know better. After exhausting the local bar's supply of 5 franc coins on the washing machines and the Beaufort cheesemakers' English, we headed back down the valley knowing we would be back.
The next year, after searching for a copper cheese vat in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps with the help of friends made on our previous trip, we headed for Beaufort. Although we met many helpful people, our French and German was only as good as our counterparts' English. We were told, however, of a Frenchman who would tell us all we needed to know. He lived hours away in the mountains above Moutiers. We found him on a Sunday afternoon at his house. Like a true farmer, having done little more than milk his cows, make some cheese, do his chores, clean the kitchen after his family had gone off for the afternoon and then perhaps get an hour for himself before evening chores and milking, he seemed a bit less than overjoyed to see two lost souls on his doorstep at a time when a brisk nap seemed like a good idea. He let us struggle in French for a while before asking us in for coffee in perfect English.
He makes Beaufort "alpage" in the summer from the milk of 100 Tarine cows twice a day, everyday, all summer. He is famous for his cheese, and for falling asleep at dinner. He said "to make Beaufort is too meticulous for you". That was the hook. He found us an apprentice who has become a good friend, and both have helped us ever since. He now thinks that "maybe our job is OK". Thistle Hill Tarentaise is the happy result. We hope you will find that we have been sufficiently meticulous!
How Tarentaise is Made
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is handmade in the tradition of the Tarentaise Valley in the Savoie region of the French Alps. These cheeses, sometimes referred to as "Mountain Gruyere" are among the finest cheeses in the world. Tarentaise is unique to North Pomfret, Vermont and has a flavor and texture which reflects the climate, the cows and the idiosyncracies of Thistle Hill Farm.
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is made from the raw (unpasteurized) organic milk of the Putnam's grass-fed Jersey cows. The herd lives on the farm, with ample access to pasture, and are fed fresh grass every 12 hours during the summer. (Intensive rotational grazing).
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is handmade in a new cheese house just up the hill from the dairy barn, using a copper cheese vat and traditional Savoie methods. The copper vat, essential to developing the proper flavor of an Alpine cheese, is the only one in Vermont, one of only a few in the United States, and was custom built for Thistle Hill in Switzerland. Unlike commercial cheese operations which use pumps that can harm the curds, at Thistle Hill Farm, the curds are carefully taken from the copper vat in a large cheese cloth and hand-carried to the fore press. The presses are imported from France, as are the cultures used to mature the fresh organic milk. The cheeses go through a series of molds and turnings before entering the aging room which contains only Tarentaise.
The aging room atmosphere is developed from French cultures, and the climate is kept at the temperature of underground mountain water. Each cheese is rubbed twice a week using a traditional culture. The textured rind, butterscotch color and concave sides are all characteristic of the superb French Alpine cheeses which inspired Tarentaise. The result is the smooth textured, subtly nut-flavored, and naturally rinded Tarentaise.
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise cheese is available at fine food stores and can be ordered from the farm directly at www.ThistleHillFarm.com