What is "Farmstead" Cheese?
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise is a true "Farmstead" cheese. The American Cheese Society defines "Farmstead" as limited to cheeses produced with:
1) Milk from herds on the farm where the cheese is produced;
2) Care and attention to the purity, quality, and flavor of the milk;
3) Production primarily by hand;
4) Natural ripening with emphasis on development of characteristic flavor and texture without the use of shortcuts and techniques to increase shelf life at the expense of quality;
5) Respect for the traditions and history of cheesemaking regardless of the size of production.
Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise meets and surpasses all of these criteria. Our cheese house is only 100 feet up the hill from dairy barn where we milk our certified organic Jersey cows twice a day. We do not, nor have we ever bought milk for Tarentaise. We follow the traditions of the Savoie in the French Alps with our copper vat and hands-on production.
An important aspect of the taste of Tarentaise is that our cows eat from our pastures and hay grown, and harvested, by us on the farm. "One place, one cheese" is a phrase we have heard again and again. This is the concept of "terroir". Our cheese has a flavor and characteristics exclusive to our farm. If we bought milk, or brought in feed from elsewhere, it would taste like it came from elsewhere. Because our cows are not pushed to produce excessive amounts of milk with feed additives or fermented feeds, they make some of the cleanest milk possible. Those of us who milk the cows, also make the cheese and work the fields that feed the farm. This practice, while necessary on a small farm, is also necessary to an understanding of how the elements of a farmstead chese are so closely intertwined.
There are cheese production facilities that use the term "Farmstead", even in Vermont, without adhering to true standards of the concept. Hopefully Vermont cheesemakers will adopt a farmstead standard similar to that of the American Cheese Society such that the characteristics of certain cheeses can be properly identified.