The general basics of cheesemaking go like this:
1. Have milk. Warm milk.
2. Add cultures and acid or rennet to milk – start curd coagulation.
3. Start curd separation from whey by cutting or scooping.
4. Cook and drain curds.
5. Do something with the curds! Strain, mold, press, age, ….
There are as many different ways to do the aforementioned as there are sensible black pumps in a government office. Different cheeses get different cultures for different flavors. Some curds get briefly warmed, some get their sugars caramelized, some get nearly all of the whey pressed out of them by being squished in a machine.
Rennet also comes in many forms. Natural, traditional animal- from the stomach lining of a cow. Microbial. Thistle. Some rennet is made in a lab. In whatever form it comes, rennet is what coagulates the curd into a sort of thick custard before it’s separated from the whey. After the curds are cut, they are cooked, the whey is expelled, and what remains is the protein, fat, and deliciousness than will later become cheese.
Since curds are crucial to making cheeses that are aged even a little bit, it’s fair to say rennet is pretty important. In the Extremadura region of Spain, the choice of rennet type is considered crucial.
I’d like you to officially meet Torta de Trujillo. He’s made with rennet from the thistle flower. How does being flower powered affect Trujillo, you ask? In the case of this little torta, in several ways.
1. First, thistle rennet encourages a soft, silken paste. Traditional animal rennet (cow, stomach, lining) can help age a cheese into a firm style but from what I’ve heard, thistle rennet helps form a softer, creamier paste that doesn’t firm as much as it ages. How the curds are cut (this torta’s curds are kept large so less whey is expelled and more moisture is retained in the final cheese) makes a difference, but the word on the cheese street is that thistle rennet prefers to stay…. loosey goosey.
2. Second, thistle rennets produces floral flavors in a cheese. Really. And vegetable ones. A taste of Trujillo reveal flavors that are floral, sweet, and even artichoke heart-like. Prettttty delicious…
The traditional way to eat this style of cheese, like Torta la Estrella or Serena, is to wait until it is really ripe. The rind will still be firm, but the inside will be soft, and the top of the cheese will give when pressed. Then, cut off the top like it was a sourdough bread bowl, and spoon out the cheese on pieces of bread as you snack.
Many people ask me about the affects of different types of rennet. Trujillo is a great example of what thistle can do. This plant has been used to centuries in Spain and Portugal and occasionally by American cheese makers to great success.
Do you like the flavor of thistle rennet?
What are your favorite thistle flower powered cheeses?