June 25, 2019

Cardoon for Vegetable Rennet

In the comments of my last post (Chèvre) there was some discussion about vegetable rennet, so I wanted to show you my cardoon. Two years ago I planted some, because I was told they can be used to make a vegetable rennet for making cheese. They are perennials so last year they just grew and established themselves. This year they bloomed.

Cardoon is a relative of the globe artichoke.

To make rennet the purple stamens are collected and dried.

After I took this picture I learned that if the stamens are cut off the
flowers while still on the plant, they'll regrow for another cutting.

Spread out on a clean kitchen towel to dry. 

As I've been collecting and drying the stamens, I've been doing some research. Apparently, cardoon rennet is used to make specific cheeses. The ones in Portugal are called cardo cheeses: Azeitão, Nisa, and Serra da Estrela to name some of the popular ones. But I've been having trouble finding actual recipes for them. I've found a couple of videos, but they are more tourist demonstrations rather than how-to classes.

For using cardoon rennet, I'm finding varying instructions. One source says to use about 5 tablespoons of dried, powered cardoon stamens to make the tea for a gallon of milk. Another source says 1 to 2.5 grams per litre of milk, and still another says 1 gm for 2 litres milk. Quite a difference, and I suppose it has to do with the specific cheese being made. No matter, if I want to use it routinely as rennet, it's going to take way more cardoon plants than the half-dozen I've got. Hopefully, I'll have enough for an experiment. As far as growing it for a steady supply for cheesemaking, forget it. I can't see myself growing an acre of cardoon plants just for that.

All is not lost, however, because cardoon leaf stalks can be eaten as a vegetable too. Very popular in Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. They tend to be bitter in flavor, so commonly the leaves are pulled together and tied in a bundle to blanch them before harvesting. I wasn't thinking about using them that way earlier, and now the plants are probably too late in this season's maturity. So that will be for next year.

Once I harvest and dry enough stamens, I'll make a cardoon solution and give it a try. And I confess I'm curious. Has anyone traveled to Portugal and tried some of these intriguing cheeses? Or maybe a Portuguese blog visitor can give me more information?

Cardoon is from a long list of plants that will curdle milk for making cheese. I've been collecting other things to try for vegetable rennet too. More on those later.


Sam I Am...... said...

I find it amazing how the old ways were the most ingenious. I do think we are getting back to it hopefully before we lose all that great knowledge. You are definitely a positive force in that endeavor.

J.L. Murphey said...

I've always used stinging nettle for my vegetable rennet. I'll have to look into planting Cardoon also.What the ratio of water? Cockeyed jo

Leigh said...

Sam, it's a lot of fun to research and try these traditional methods. Industrialization of our food has truly robbed us of not only unique and useful methods, but also unique foods. We have so much copycat stuff now (cheeses are a good example) that I doubt most people have any idea of how the real stuff tastes. Sad, isn't it?

Jo, good question, and part of the specific information I'm having trouble finding. That's why detailed recipes would help. Typically, plants for rennet are used by making a strong tea of a handful of dried plant in 2 cups of water. Grace Firth (Stillroom Cookery) recommends half cup of this tea per half gallon of milk. Is that similar to your proportions?

Based on what I'm finding, cardoon seems to be more potent, since less is used. I do know that the water in the tea will come out in the whey. So in some ways, the amount of water seems flexible.

Rain said...

That's really interesting Leigh. Hmmm...if it really works well, I think I'd plant the acre lol...but then we eat so much cheese. I have traveled to Portugal, but my gosh, it was 1989. I know I ate lots of the local food but can't remember any specific cheeses. I hope you find some instructions to make those Portuguese cheeses! Have you tried the Cheese Forum? (cheeseforum.org). I did a quick search for the names of those cheeses, there is a discussion there about the cardoon/veg rennet, but I didn't see any recipes. I think you need to register for an account to search and post, but maybe someone there can point you in the right direction? I have a bunch of downloaded cheese books, I'll do a quick search this afternoon to see if there are any recipes in there for those cheeses!

Rain said...

No luck in the cheese books!

Leigh said...

Rain, thank you!!! I will definitely join the cheese forum this evening when I have more sit-down computer time. Off now to clean out the barn!

Rain said...

You're welcome! :) The forum is a wonderful resource. I haven't been active there for a while now, but when I was struggling with my Traditional Mozzarella, I got LOTS of tips from people. And that's where I snagged my best Camembert recipe! Sometimes it's a little slow, but people eventually answer then more people join in!

Ed said...

Your cheese experimentation posts always fascinate me because it is a subject I know zero about. But in general, whenever I compare various recipes with a range for an ingredient, I shoot for the middle the first time around and then adjust from there.

Lady Locust said...

I am Portuguese, my G-father was born there, but I don't recall them or my great-grandparents making cheese which is strange because they were dairymen. What I recall is that they took the milk to the creamery. I know of quite a few recipes for meats and pastries though:-) My Gma is Italian and is still alive. I will ask her if she or my other great-gma ever made cheese. Now you have me curious.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

When I say the title I thought "Cardoon? I thought they used thistles". After seeing your picture, turns out they are the same thing.

Leigh said...

Rain, well, I've registered and am awaiting approval. Sounds like this forum will be a wonderful resource.

Ed, that's probably the best way to do it. I always figure that anything I do the first time is an experiment! That way I'm not disappointed when it doesn't turn out, I just take mental notes and adjust.

Lady Locust, how interesting! I would love to know anything you learn. I hope you write a blog post about it. The Mediterranean cheeses fascinate me because of the way they preserve them. Warmer climate and no cheese caves is right up my alley.

TB, there are several different kinds of thistle that are used to make cheese. We used to have wild thistle growing in the pastures, but it was only a couple of plants and it seems to have disappeared. I'd love to try that one too.

Lady Locust said...

Sorry for conversation like comment~ I asked Grammy. She said her Gpa made cheese all the time and her mom at times. She didn't know what they used for rennet:-( and as far as what kind, she said it was a Rum something:-) If I find out anything more, I will certainly share. Sometimes she remembers more after a few days sorta thing.
(I do have my great gma's method for making olives though which I'm extremely grateful for:-)

Leigh said...

Lady Locust, I so appreciate your getting back with me. Interesting. There is a very long list of plants that have been used for rennet. I'm only beginning to scratch the surface. With kefir I don't have to buy cultures, but it would be nice to not have to buy rennet either (although I probably have a lifetime supply in the freezer :)

Have you posted your olive recipe? I seem to recall you might have. I tried to grow a potted olive tree, but sadly, it didn't make it.

Rain said...

Hi Leigh,
I'm devastated!!!

I just wanted to tell you, I wrote this to the site admin of the cheese forum:

"You just rejected a friend of mine's request for admission to the forum??? Why on earth???
Leigh from 5 Acres And A Dream blog.

I have been promoting the forum on my blog for a year now and I really regret it!

I made it a point to tell her how welcoming the forum was, how much help it's been for me....and you REJECT her???
I'm very disappointed.:

Leigh, I'm very sorry I recommended this site. :(

Leigh said...

Rain, thankfully, once they figured out I'm not a spammer, it got straightened out!!! Between the two of us they're probably turning inside out! I would never want to moderate a forum. Still, I'm really glad you made the recommendation. I'm finding lots of good information already and I've just begun exploring the site.

Rain said...

I'm happy to hear that Leigh! There are some great people on there, I really learned a lot and I hope you do too! We "turophiles" need to stick together lol! :) There is SO MUCH to explore on that site!! :)

Leigh said...

Rain, it shows that it pays to follow through. I've really been enjoying exploring the site. So much good information!

Cockeyed Jo said...

That's exactly to proportions I use. I got mine from The Housewife's Guide to the Still Room. It's full of recipes medicinal to cookery. Good luck trying to find a copy now. It was copyrighted in 1826. Ir's one of my prized possessions. I found mine in an old attic back in 1970. The owner sold it to me for 25 cents. Cockeyed Jo

Leigh said...

Jo, very interesting. Sounds like my kind of book! I will have to look around online for that book. A lot of them are now available as PDFs.

curtis_patience said...

Hi everyone!!!...i found this corner seaching how to harvest Cardon rennet. I've got a ton here on the vineyard, and did enjoy the cheeses in Portugal!!!!! Did you ever get around to using it? i searched through your archive and didn't see any further reference.



Leigh said...

Hi Curtis! I saved cardoon petals but have yet to try it. Next milk season I will!

Anonymous said...

Yes, please keep us posted!!!