Friday, November 5, 2010
Making cheese with cardoons
One of the most fascinating things i discovered at last weekend’s Cheese Fair was what cardoons look like - or at least what they look like in the form in which cheesemakers get to handle them. They’re widely used in Spain and Portugal and Mary Holbrook, who I referred to in the last post, uses them to make Cardo and Tilleys, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog (though managed to misspell).
Cardoons are a thistle-like plant which grow up to about 7 foot high. The stamens are picked and dried - a bit like saffron stamens. "You want cardoon with as much purple in it as you can get" said Mary. It’s traditionally used to make sheeps’ cheeses but she uses it with goats milk when she has a plentiful supply in the summer and believes it gives her cheeses a special flavour and texture. “It’s the cardoons, not my cheesemaking which give character to the cheese” she said modestly.
“We have to grind the stamens to break them then add warm water and infuse them for 20 minutes then filter it and stir it into the milk. You have to do this extremely thoroughly otherwise you can get parts of the milk coagulating and others staying liquid. The process is quite quick - it takes about the same time as making normal soft or hard cheese.”
Despite the trickiness of the process and the difficulty of getting hold of the stamens Mary thinks there’s no substitute for the raw ingredient. “I’m not looking forward to the day when they have liquid cardoon rennet” she said firmly.