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.


Niamh said...

Oh - I just love stuff like this. I must check these cheeses out.

Alessandra said...

I know that it was used (maybe still used???) in Italy as a rennet... and also another vegetarian rennet comes from fig branches.

Fiona Beckett said...

You won't find Cardo at this time of year Niamh but look out for it next year. Neal's Yard should have the Tilleys I would have thought.

And, yes, I understand the use of cardoons is also being revived in Italy Alessandra