GOSHEN — Renowned chocolatier and author Chloe Doutre-Roussel has a famous quote: “Chocolate is like my best friend and the most intense pleasure at the same time, perhaps not the most intense, but the most regular and reliable one.”
The “milk chocolate” that many people are conditioned to, especially in the U.S., is often a poor excuse for the term. Commercial chocolate manufacturers can add powdered milk, liquid milk, or condensed milk. The U.S. requires a standard, a meager 10 percent concentration of chocolate liquor (European Union regulations meanwhile usually specify a minimum of 25 percent cocoa solids).
U.S. chocolate producers are also thought to use a process (which remains a trade secret) that gives its chocolate a specific taste. The process involves partially lipolyzing milk (degrading the milk fat), according to the 2008 New York Times article, “Dark May Be King, but Milk Chocolate Makes a Move.” This process produces butyric acid, which is then pasteurized as part of the milk-chocolate-making process. This gives U.S. commercial milk chocolate the slightly sour taste that has lowered countless palates for years.
The milk chocolates sold at Thorncrest Farm and Milk House Chocolates at 280 Town Hill Road, Goshen, couldn’t be more different from the commercial chocolate-making process.
Co-owner Kimberly Thorn said at the farm’s dairy barn on a recent Saturday: “We don’t do that (hydrolization). We make everything chocolate, from 100 percent to 40 to 42 percent. We give serious amounts of cocoa flavor married with the milk.” She added, “I have a batch going right now in the shop that is 100 percent chocolate.”
Manning the farm’s small, busy chocolate and dairy shop, Kimberly further highlighted the difference between her chocolates and, say, Hershey’s: “We use heavy cream and butter from the cow’s milk, that has been pasteurized. We use the single-cow way we originated in 1997.” She added, regarding the fresh herbs used: “We are all about farm ingredients. There are no extracts. We get the mint right from the garden. We use the pie pumpkins we grow. It is like they did in the 1700s. We are making it in the same way still today.”
Nearby, her husband and co-owner Clint Thorn, who describes the business as “cow-to-chocolate,” introduced visitors and their children to the friendly Holstein cows Kay and Kate. During a break, Clint said, “Even if we didn’t have the cows, Kimberly would still be in the one percent of chocolate makers in the entire world who do what she does.”
The Thorn family has run Thorncrest Farm for more than two decades years now. Thorncrest Farm sells small-batch varieties of artisanal bonbons (with 15 holiday flavors) at their chocolate shop, as well as fresh milk, yogurt, and butter, all derived from their own cows. But the difference at Milk House Chocolates is that specific cows’ breeding and diet determine which chocolate flavor they contribute to with their milk. The farm’s holiday offerings include Jolly Snowmen white and dark chocolate centerpieces; the Centerpiece Santa (a combination of white and dark chocolate); and the Treasure Chest of Truffles (with truffles in flavors of dark orange, almond, caramel, and cabernet sauvignon).
Non-holiday items can make notable gifts as well. Inside a customized dark chocolates sampler box were some of the following delectable flavors: the oval Dark Chocolate Lavender, with a ganache (whipped filling) blended with English culinary lavender; Daydream’s Dark Chocolate Soft Caramel Hearts, which were lightly salted; and the white-swirled Brigadoon, a hand-dipped ganache finished with a white chocolate swirl. All this is delicious enough to cause one to become a Blanche, hungrily devouring a box of chocolates in the 1962 film “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
The farm also offers gifts that do not involve chocolate at all. In addition to the dairy cows and the milk chocolate shop, cheese-making and wine pairing classes run at the farm year round. The farm also operates a wood mill and furniture/sculpture shop named The Open Talon.
Of Thorncrest Farm and Milk House Chocolates, Kimberly said, “We have two focuses, or passions. One is caring for the cows; the second is the freshness of the chocolate based on the ingredients.”
Clint said, “The way it is made, this is the same chocolate you got back in 1780. The method hasn’t changed in what we are doing.”
The business is a family affair. The Thorn’s sons Garret and Lyndon, who are in their mid-20s, also play big parts on the farm. Lyndon works at the farm’s saw mill and harvests hay while learning about operating the creamery. Garrett assists with milking the cows and a variety of other jobs. Both sons were home-schooled from the earliest of ages. Clint has remarked previously: “They were doing chores and learning while playing with their toy tractors.”
The 22 primarily Holstein cows on the farm inhabit a relaxed and stress-free environment, which the farm’s owners say produces a more tasteful dairy product. Stress yields acidic milk, they said. Of the cows, they have groups of five flavors. For example, there are the dark chocolate cows, and there is one of three Jersey cows, Daydream, whose milk is used to make the caramel-based chocolates. The milk is all-natural and pasteurized but not homogenized.
The Thorns said that all farm activities revolve around the comfort of “the girls,” as they call the cows. Clint said that the cow feed is produced with no pesticides. The bovines’ water fountains are fitted with aerators that operate when prompted by a drink of water, simulating the consistency and noise of a rippling freshwater stream. The barn’s dairy parlor, where the cows are milked, was built so two rows of the cows’ heads or tails (rows are opposite one another with a walkway in between) are aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field. Come summertime, the open barn doors allow a cooling cross-breeze.
The girls’ daily routine starts early. Cows are milked each morning at 4:30 a.m. and then put out to roam the pasture to relax if it is not too cold outside. In the afternoon they return to the dairy barn and are milked again. Clint said Thorncrest does not use the pumps, tubes, or hoses utilized at larger commercial dairy farms. Instead, each cow is milked with individual stainless-steel pneumatic pails.
The idea for the cow-to-chocolate business started when Kimberly visited Ireland in 1984. She noticed an old man riding into town with milk totes on his bicycle every day. When asked about the totes, the old man explained that he delivered his farm’s fresh milk and cream to a chocolate shop that used it for certain chocolates. Later, when joined in Ireland by Clint, the future Mr. and Mrs. Thorn explored small artisanal chocolate shops in 14 European countries. The trip laid the groundwork for Kimberly’s future unique chocolatier craft. “Now we get people who have been to Belgium coming here and saying they have never had chocolate like ours,” added Clint.
The pair started the Thorncrest Farm’s chocolate business in 1997 but only officially opened as a business in 2011. This was after the Thorns “moo-ved” their cow herd from Ives Road to the current Town Hill Road farm in Goshen that had been in Clint’s family. The first cow, the great-grandmother of the herd, was a Canadian-born Holstein named Hanoverhill J. Koral, whose commemorative photo from 1987 hangs on the wall near a table in the dairy barn. “All the Holsteins, Kurrant, Kashmere, came from her,” Clint said. “The herd is different and the feed is different for each.”
On Saturday, Kimberly served visitors from a tray of holiday chocolates and exhibited a Nutcracker-themed chocolate statuette, which she said was 90 percent solid. Speaking of chocolate bars made with 100 percent cocoa nibs, Kimberly said: “The bars are silky, smooth, full-flavored and not too bitter.” Some of the chocolate truffles she served as samples included Madagascar Vanilla Cream and Honey Cinnamon Cream.
Kimberly pointed out later, “Goshen is known as the Land of Milk and Honey, so the Honey Cinnamon Cream is fitting.” She mentioned the farm sources its honey locally at West Street Farm on North Street in Goshen.
After tasting the delicious confections, visitors pronounced the chocolates as “simply bovine.”
Thorncrest Farm and Milk House Chocolates are located at 280 Town Hill Road. The shop’s hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and closed some holidays. The stable and farm hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The telephone number is 860-390-2545. Visit www.milkhousechocolates.net for more information.