Guillaume Horacajuelo/EPA/Landov
December 03, 2015 10:30 AM

Monaco’s Prince Albert wouldn’t seem like a farm boy, but he has a surprisingly agrarian background (for a prince, that is).

Few outside Monaco realize that the royals’ 125-acre palace retreat, Roc Agel, is a working farm. Or that Prince Albert, his wife Princess Charlene and their nearly 1-year-old twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella share their mountain-top getaway with a dozen cows, 100 chickens and other livestock.

“My father [Prince Ranier] started it, really. He wanted Roc Agel to be a working farm since the ’60s,” Albert tells PEOPLE exclusively. “It was his notion. The vegetable garden was already in progress and my mother [Princess Grace] was very much into that. She brought the corn into the mix, that we have there now, and that we really enjoy. And we’ve tomatoes and zucchini and…”

But what about those cows?

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Prince Rainier, Albert explains, was suspicious of the quality of milk available from local French farms and “bought the first cows. He wanted better milk for my sisters and myself.”

While Rainier’s herd eventually grew to 20, today there are 12 Jersey cows “so we have a sufficient amount of milk for the family and there’s some for the palace staff.

“We’ve enough to make some cheese as well,” says the royal dad and organic farmer, 57. “Not all the time, but our farmers have taken some courses in cheese-making and we make soft cheese and a type of Emmenthal a few times a year.”

Unlike the family’s Chateau de Marchais in France’s Picardy region, whose 1500 acres are planted with cereal grains, “we don’t have a huge amount of land at Roc Agel. There’s the 12 cows and a greenhouse, and there’s roughly 100 chickens laying eggs which the palace staff can order.” Also around the grounds: an elm which Princess Grace brought back from the U.S. in 1963 and another Albert brought back as a gift from Australia, said to be among the oldest species on earth.

And there’s one other benefit of owning your own working dairy farm, which has given rise to another Monégasque tradition. Each December, Monaco’s Palace hosts an annual Christmas party for local children. Gifts and entertainment abound, and according to one adult attendee who can’t wait for his child’s invitation to arrive: “Their chocolate milk is legendary.”

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