Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is an aged, raw milk, organic cheese made by John and Janine Putnam at their family farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. Certified organic milk comes from the farm's grass-fed Jersey cows.
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is made using a copper cheese vat in the tradition of cheesemaking the Tarentaise Valley in the Savoie region of the French Alps. The copper vat, essential to developing the proper flavor, is one of only a few in the United States, and was custom built for Thistle Hill Farm in Switzerland.
Following in the footsteps of the cheesemakers of the Savoie, Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is made using imported French cultures that give the cheese its character while aging. Also, the Putnam's follow the traditional Savoie process of making their own rennet, using the whey from the previous cheesemaking.
For production, the curds are carefully taken from the copper vat and given an initial pressing for ten minutes, referred to as the "forepress" in order to expel some of the whey. Afterwards, each young wheel is cut into quarters and each quarter placed into a Tarentaise mold or form where it undergoes a second pressing at a pressure of 65lbs for two and a half hours. After unmolding, the cheeses are wrapped in a cheesecloth and transferred to a 'heat room' where they're turned (flipped) and left to sit overnight. Early the next morning, the wheels are brined for about 3 hours before being transferred to the aging room.
In order to produce a traditional Tarentaise, the Putnams imported the correct size molds from France to create a cheese approximately 14 inches in diameter and four inches high, with the concave sides similar to Beaufort, Abondance and Tarentaise cheeses.
Cheeses range in age from four months and up, with six months considered optimal. The aging room contains only Tarentaise cheese and its atmosphere is carefully adjusted to foster the development of Tarentaise's characteristics.
During the aging process, the cheeses are washed twice each week to develop the natural rind and butterscotch color.
The flavors of Tarentaise can be quite assertive and complex. Forward fruit flavors are apparent, with an underlying caramel sweetness, earthy notes and nuts.