Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ah, Yorkshire. God’s Own Country and my home county (well, it’s 3 counties technically, but let’s not worry about that now). There are many delicious regional recipes to be found there, but this must be the best: Yorkshire curd tart. For some very strange reason it hasn’t really ever made its way out of Yorkshire. Essentially it is a baked cheesecake – something that Britain isn’t considered famous for, yet if you delve into the old cook books, you’ll find loads of recipes for them. The cheese in question here is, of course, curd cheese which is sweetened with sugar, and mixed with currants, allspice and sometimes rosewater.

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Now a few guiding words on the making of a curd tart: no matter what you read, and I want to be very clear on this, cottage cheese cannot be used. It must be curd cheese which is very different in taste and texture to cottage cheese. These days it is difficult to get your hands on it, but it is very easy to make yourself, as you’ll see below. Also, the only spice to be used must be ground allspice (or clove-pepper as it used to be called in Yorkshire). Not cinnamon, not nutmeg, and certainly not mixed spice. Another misconception is that lemon curd is spread on the pastry base of the tart. Well it’s not, Mr Michelin Guide. Lastly, and as already mentioned, it’s a kind of cheesecake, and not some kind of custard tart as some people seem to think (Mr Paul Hollywood, I’m looking at you).

Ok. Good. Glad we got those issues out of the way.

Curd tarts were traditionally made around Whitsuntide from left-over curds from the cheese-making process and seem to originate in the early-to-mid 17th century. Most families kept their own cow in those days. For those of you that don’t know (and who does?), Whitsuntide derives from the words White Sunday which is our name for Pentecost, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is the seventh Sunday after Easter. The important thing is that there’s a Bank Holiday the next day and a whole week off for half term for the schoolkids.

In dairy farms with several cows, special curd tarts would be made after the cows had calved, using the cows’ colostrum to make the curd for the tarts. Colostrum is the milk produced straight after a mammal gives birth. It is particularly rich in nutrients and fat, and is yellowish in colour. I’ve always thought of this as a bit mean of the dairy farmer’s wife, but then again, she’d also have to tuck into umbilical cord pie the next day, so I suppose it evens out.

To Make Curd Cheese

It’s really easy to make your own curd cheese. All you need is some gold top Channel Island milk, some rennet, salt, and some muslin or other cloth to drain the whey from the curds; I have used an old pillowcase in the past with much success.

Rennet is an enzyme that curdles milk. In the old days a piece of a freshly-slaughtered male calf’s stomach lining would have been popped into the milk (as still occurs in the production of some non-vegetarian cheeses). These days with the magic of science, we can produce it from bacterial culture.

This recipe makes around 750g curd cheese.

In a saucepan, warm a litre of Channel Island milk to 37⁰C, also termed ‘blood-heat’. Use a thermometer if you like. Pour the milk into a dish or bowl and stir in half a teaspoon of salt and your rennet. Follow the instructions on the bottle to see how much to add, as different brands vary. Stir it in, along with half a teaspoon of salt.

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Leave the milk to stand for 10 or 15 minutes. Upon your return, you’ll see that the milk had gone all wobbly and can be easily – and satisfyingly – broken into curds.

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Scald your straining cloth with water straight from the kettle, spread it out over a bowl so the edges hang over, and then pour in your curds and whey. Tie up the cloth with string and hang up the cheese above the bowl to strain for 4 or 5 hours. Hey presto! You have made curd cheese. It keeps for several days covered in the fridge.

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To Make a Yorkshire Curd Tart

Here’s the recipe I use which is based on the one that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. It makes enough filling for one 10 inch diameter tart tin, though you can make several small ones if you prefer. The recipe only requires 250g of cheese, so if you’re making your own, you might want to adjust the quantities in the recipe above, or just make three tarts.

The tart is not overly sweet and has a lovely soft centre and a golden brown colour.

125g salted butter

60g caster sugar

250g curd cheese

125g raisins

pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

¼ to ½ tsp ground allspice

1 tsp rosewater (optional).

blind-baked 10 inch shortcrust pastry shell (made or bought)

First of all, cream together the butter and sugar well, then mix in the cheese, raisins, salt and eggs. Season to taste with the allspice and rosewater.

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Pour the filling into the pastry shell and bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 220⁰C. Cool on a rack.

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19 Comments

Filed under baking, Britain, cooking, Dairy, Desserts, food, General, history, Puddings, Recipes

19 responses to “Yorkshire Curd Tart

  1. Hi! I just wanted to let you know that you said Curd cheese twice, where I think you meant to say Cottage cheese the second time. I just thought you would want to know! This looks delicious :)

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  3. Love that you make your own cheese! I tried once with rennet and met with only partial success. I didn’t persevere. Maybe I should try again :). Lovely recipe!

    • Thanks Vinny! It’s one of the best hidden gems of regional food in my opinion.

      I wonder why your rennet didn’t work?

      • I had trouble sourcing the rennet- maybe it was just too old? Anyway, the liquid never really solidified, sadly. Might look again when I’m out and about today and see if the situation has improved.

      • My rennet has been at the back of my cupboard for years and is still going strong! Perhaps you milk was too hot? These enzymes are sensitive little buggers!

    • Cactus

      Tricky stuff is Rennet. I am a home cheesemaker and it took me a while to figure it out.
      Without getting too technical, Rennet is measured in IMCU’s, (International milk clotting units) which depicts the strength.
      Here in NZ the standard Renco rennet is 65 ICMU, whilst I may follow a cheese recipe from the U.S, which states a rennet of 300 ICMU’s. Obviously I would need to put in 5 times the amount of NZ rennet, to match the U.S. and, it gets worse, theres double strength rennets, rennet tablets….it goes on. each manufacturer has a different strength.
      Cheese making books are great for leaving out the rennet strength in their recipes.
      The best thing is to follow the instructions on the bottle, rather than follow the recipe, and proportion directly. I learnt the long and hard way !!!
      cheers

      • oops – lost my response (I think…). I think I said: that explains why the recipe was so unreliable. I wanted to include the recipe in a kids’ book and had to leave it out!

      • That’d explain it!

      • Cactus

        even as a cheese maker, I now use the lemon juice method (which would go into a kids book easily).
        Bring the milk to the boil, stir in 4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, and stir gently for a couple of minutes. Works perfectl. Works using whlte vinegar, too, but I prefr the lemon juice.

      • Cheers for that Cactus!

  4. Am looking forward to making this – I’ve seen the recipe mentioned in some of my old cookbooks – I would like to make my own cheese but am reluctant to use rennet is there something else I could use. I’ve made a simple cheese before for Indian desserts with vinegar – does that produce the kind of curds you need for the tart? Thank you in advance.

    • I would go for rennet as it gives the best texture (the bottled stuff is vegetarian). Otherwise you can use lemon juice, which obviously will give a lemon flavour to the tart. The curds are much more like cottage cheese this way, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.

      Hope that helps Patricia!

  5. Kathryn Marsh

    Way back when farmers wives still took their totally unregulated eggs, butter and cheese to sell in Ripon market I used to help one of them with her butter and cheese making. And one of the things that sold hand over fist was her curd cheese. Which was made with vinegar. And as you say, a different texture to the rennet curd we made cheese with – Wensleydale style. It wasn’t legal even then to sell beestings (colostrum) so when we had it to sell the bottles were hidden under the stall.and the information was whispered to the customers. Now I no longer have cows myself I really miss beestings tart. My Lincolnshire grandmother made the curd for curd tarts with lemon juice and my Yorkshire grandmother also belonged to the vinegar school. Though in the fifties it was easy to get junket rennet in Leeds – most corner shops carried it, and every Coop branch

    • Thanks Kathryn for your answer to the vinegar question – I think I’ll try mine with that, I make my own apple cider vinegar so I’ll use that first. How lovely to read about your times at Ripon Market!

  6. Cactus

    Liquid Rennet will keep a lot better if refrigerated.

  7. Wowzas! That is complicated. I generally do what you do and follow the packet whether it be rennet, gelatine or whatever

    Thanks for the post!

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