A Taste of Alpine VermontThough it is inspired by the Savoie wonder of French Beaufort, the cheese from Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret, Vt., known as Tarentaise is very much an American original. For one thing, very few U.S. makers had even remotely begun to master the difficult mountain variations of Gruyère by the time, 13 years ago, that John and Janine Putnam went to understudy in the French Alps and then purchased the special copper vat to make the cheese back home. And what they created is as much a reflection of their own farm's terroir - especially the clover- and orchard-grass-covered pastures that enrich the organic raw milk of their Jersey herd - as it is the traditional European technique. Virtually every step in the process is done by hand, and the concave-rimmed wheel that emerges, at 11 months of aging, shows both deep complexity and finesse - at once firm, but densely creamy, with notes of herbal spice and nuts, but also flavors that conjure butterscotch and tropical fruit. Unlike many American cheesemakers who feel obliged to craft several varieties of cheese, Thistle Hill Farm only makes one. But when it's as good as Tarentaise, that should be more than enough.
Thistle Hill Tarentaise, $15.99 a pound, Wegmans, 2100 Rt. 70 West, Cherry Hill, 856-488-2700.