For over 30 years, since the late 1970s, Mary Holbrook has been a pioneer cheese-maker in Somerset, England. Originally trained as an archeologist, Mary learned cheese making by visiting producers in France, Portugal, Italy and Greece; and by extensive reading. She began making feta style cheeses as a hobby using the milk of goats that had originally been family pets, but it soon turned into a passion and the family pets were the basis of her initial herd, a task that was full of trials since many of the goats had not been trained to cope with herd life.
At Sleight Farm near Bath, she now raises a mixed herd of Saanen, Anglo-Nubian, Boer, Alpine and mixed-breed goats that produce the milk she uses in the production of her raw milk cheeses. Mary’s travels have heavily influenced her cheese making. The goat cheeses she had learned to make in France inspired the first cheeses she produced. Then in the 1990s Mary shifted focus to Portuguese cheese making techniques in the development of new cheeses.
Cardo is an example of the cheeses developed by Dr. Holbrook that were inspired by Portuguese techniques. It is made using a solution of the stamens of a Cardoon thistle steeped in water as the coagulant. Cardoon produces a similar chemical to traditional, animal-based rennet, which coagulates the milk in the cheese making process. Once the stamens have been steeped in water, they are strained out and the solution is poured into the fresh, raw goat’s milk. After an hour, Mary and a fellow cheese maker cut the curds using their hands and arms, a very unusual technique, which creates curds of uneven sizes. This ensures that each wheel of Cardo has a unique texture.
Once the curds are cut, some of the whey is removed by hand using small containers, then the rest of the whey is drained off at a slow pace. The curds are then scooped into molds where the curds continue to expel whey, with no additional pressure or weight, over 24 hours. The cheeses are removed from their molds and washed with a brine solution. Mary then takes the cheeses to Neal’s Yard Dairy for aging over a period of several weeks, during which time the cheeses are periodically washed with a brine solution.
The resulting cheese has a tacky, grey-orange rind. The paste is deep ivory in color with an unctuous breakdown just under the rind. The rich, moist interior is dotted with rustic small eyes throughout.