At this monastery, monks make raw-milk cheese and use excess whey to create methane that powers their hot-water system.
Tamié Abbey sits in serene surroundings in the Bauges mountain range in France’s Savoie region. Founded in the 1130s, it is today home to around 30 Trappist monks who run a small dairy and cheesemaking operation that produces Abbaye de Tamié, a soft cheese made from raw cow’s milk.
As of 2016, the monastery processed around 1,000 gallons of milk per day, making about 880 pounds of Abbaye de Tamié cheese, which is pressed and molded into wheels. It’s then immersed in a brine bath for two to three hours before being moved to the abbey’s cellars, where it is turned every other day and aged for four weeks.
Abbaye de Tamié is often compared to Reblochon, but is slightly thicker. Both cheeses are made using raw milk, enhancing the terroir, or the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to the cheese by the environment in which it is made. This helps give Abbaye de Tamié its nutty, fruity, and distinctively earthy flavor.
Abbaye de Tamié is made exclusively at the abbey and is sold throughout France. But because it’s made from unpasteurized milk, it’s not always in compliance with the regulations set by some other countries. In the United States, for example, cheese made from unpasteurized milk is prohibited unless it’s aged for at least 60 days. So while you can find Abbaye de Tamié in the States, it is aged for 60 days, rather than the usual four weeks, to comply with local regulations.
Not wanting to waste anything during their cheesemaking process, the monks at Tamié Abbey came up with an innovative use for their byproducts. In 2003, they built a methanization plant. Using a process that involves the wonderfully named Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket, they are able to use excess whey and white water to produce biogas.
The result is mostly methane gas that is used to power the abbey’s hot-water system. The success of this initiative has inspired other such systems in France, most notably the “cheese-based” power station in nearby Albertville, which supplies electricity to 1,500 local residents.
Know Before You Go
Abbaye de Tamié cheese can be purchased at casino store close to Megeve. The shop closes for lunch at 12:00 p.m.
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