Milking it for all it's worth. Cows that are bred and fed specifically for the cream that goes into chocolates.
From just one whiff of milk, Kimberly Thorn knows exactly what tasting notes it will add to the chocolates she makes. “She’s a milk sommelier,” boasts her husband Clint, who manages the 60-head of cows at Thorncrest Farm and Milk House Chocolates in Goshen. He smiles as he says this, but he’s serious. At the farm’s creamery, adjacent to the dairy barn, Kimberly makes “single-cow origin chocolates.” Cows are bred and fed specifically for the cream that goes into the confections.
Like chocolates in a box, the Thorn’s Holstein cows are grouped together in the barn according to the flavor of their milk. On one side, there’s Crown Royal, Crisco, Clover Cypress, and Creed—milk-chocolate cows. Opposite them are Mist, Viola, Kurrant, and Queen, dark-chocolate bovines. Another stall is reserved for Day Dreamer, a tawny-colored, gentle-eyed Jersey, whose milk is used for caramel confections.
It sounds a bit far-fetched. Can the milk from one cow be that different from the cow next to it? Perhaps. A whole viticulture is blossoming in the Litchfield Hills, influenced by the farm-to-table movement and increased consumer quest for fresh, local foods that
reflect the region and home-grown methods. For instance, Kimberly does not use sugar in her chocolates; the sweetness comes primarily from the cream, along with garden herbs, sea salts, local fruits, and honey.
These days, farmers are more comfortable throwing around lexicon used to describe wine. They speak of the terroir of their products, tracing the flavor to the soil and climate of the area, and to tasting notes that describe aroma, acidity, structure, and texture. Chris Casiello, the production manager at Arethusa Farm, describes the farm’s blue cheese, the most recent addition to its cheese selection, as having meaty and brothy notes with some burnt flavor and a bit of chocolate-y finish.
In the past, dairy farmers were all about production, production, production, says farmer John Kimberly. Now the trend is fresh-from-the-udder quality. The label on a bottle of his strawberry milk features a photo of his reddish-brown and white Ayrshires. The ingredients listed are Grade A whole milk, strawberry puree, and sugar. That’s it—no preservatives, emulsifiers, or artificial flavorings. Next year, he wants to expand his selection to include raspberry- and possibly blueberry-flavored milk using locally sourced berries.
Once harvested, the homegrown hops used in brewing Kent Falls Brewery beer will have a juniper taste, along with other flavor characteristics unique to the soil in which each ingredient is grown, says Barry Labendz, the farm manager.
And at Averill Farm in Washington, some 20 different kinds of the orchard’s more than 120 variety of apples are used in making cider and cider doughnuts. “Most orchards grow only about 20 varieties of apples, so their products have only one or two types of apples,” says Tyson Averill, a tenth generation family.
Kimberly Thorn admits that it is a culinary challenge, matching cows to flavor. She began selling chocolate, along with cream-line milk and cheese, onsite and online two years ago and only sells fresh-made chocolate. Her husband feeds the cows six types of hay, which they grow on the farm without herbicides or pesticides, and various types of fiber.
Everything in the barn is designed to keep cows comfortable, including a custom-built barn to provide optimum air circulation. Even the milking process, which harkens back to earlier days, benefits the cows, milked individually with pneumatic milk pails.
In addition, Thorncrest, as well as Kimberly Farm and Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, all use a small-batch, low-temperature, long-duration, slow-heat, and quick-cool process that preserves the flavor of the milk.
Inevitably, the quality of the products comes down to care. At Arethusa Farm, guests entering the milk barn are greeted by a sign reading: “Every cow in this barn is a lady. Please treat her as such.”
“You won’t hear any mooing in our barn,” says Casiello. “Bellowing can be a sign that cows are discontent. And, as any farmer worth his overalls knows, happy cows give the best milk.”