How to describe a curd tart?
It’s not the egg custard tart of my childhood which screams pasty as in pallid and not pasty as in pic-nic, although my mum and her mother could make an excellent home-made egg custard freckled with grated nutmeg. Not forgetting that it isn’t nutmeg unless it has been lurking in the bottom of the baking drawer for a good few decades. Nor is it the Manchester Tart from school dinners with a dollop of jam on top of solid day-glo custard and a smattering of desiccated coconut and certainly not the unctuous and ubiquitous Portuguese Tarts that grace delis, cafés and food shops.
The Yorkshire Curd Tart hints at the texture of a baked American cheesecake but isn’t sickly or rich. Buttery, fruity, slightly tangy and spiced with nutmeg, it came to my attention through Betty’s Tea Rooms of Yorkshire’s spa towns and I have been known to order a box of four from Betty’s by Post when in need of an indulgent fix.*
Such a sweet treat came to mind over last Easter bank holiday weekend during lockdown. Realising I’d left it too late to get any delivered I turned my thoughts to making some at home. But not just any Yorkshire Curd Tart … this one would be a crossover from the other side of the Pennines, inspired in Yorkshire but executed in Red Rose Lancashire. Well, when in Palatine …
“Lancashire Cheese is an English cow’s milk cheese …and perhaps the finest English cheese of all for cooking. It has a mild flavour and at about 3 months old it is as soft as butter and can be spread like it.” Theodora FitzGibbon, Irish cookery writer
I’d made curd tarts before using a recipe that came to me by word-of-mouth from a lesser known but excellent curd tarter at The Station Café in Burley-in-Wharfedale which is no more and has gone to the great railway sidings in the sky.
Many recipes use cottage cheese instead of curds but this results in a wetter, less firm curd filling (unless you strain it in a sieve to drain off some of the liquid and make a drier curd). Traditionally the tarts are made with currants but I find currants mingy (what a great word meaning ‘undesirably small’) and prefer a more plumptious (plump + scrumptious) dried fruit so my recipe substitutes raisins. Discussing it with another who is Lancashire born and bred but has lived a Yorkshire life for most of her adult years, we decided that getting our hands on some farm fresh curds might be the answer to achieving authenticity. That’s Lancastrians for you – industrious, up for invention and challenge.
Down on the farm
A phone call later saw us gallivanting a short drive to Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese in Goosnargh, between the cities of Preston and Lancaster. There we would rendezvous with the dairy matriarch’s son and farm manager Graham who would supply us with curds from the cheese-making process. They’ve got a tasty website where you can learn more and it’s well worth a gander.
Lancashire cheese-making dates back to the 13th century but stopped being produced because it was considered inefficient to make compared with other British cheeses. Mrs Kirkham’s is a family business, producing the last and only farmhouse Lancashire Cheese made from unpasteurised milk, doing what they do consistently well. “Gradely”, as our Gracie would say.
Since 1978 the Kirkham family have made both young Creamy (aged up to 12 weeks) and mature Tasty (aged over 12 weeks) varieties to a recipe that has been passed down through the family for generations. Theirs is a more traditional Lancashire than the mass produced Crumbly that was invented to speed up the production process by making a drier, more crumbly cheese, one which could be made outside the borders of Lancashire.
Graham explained to us that traditional Creamy and Tasty Lancashire cheeses are each made over at least two days and involve using curd from both days. This method originated because some farmers did not have large enough herds to make cheese unless they combined milk from more than one day of milking. The process results in a rich, light, fluffy texture and characteristic zesty, yoghurty, acidic flavours. If you are hungry to learn more about how the award-winning cheese is made it is well documented here.
Back to the baking quest for which you need the following ingredients:
200g shortcrust or olive oil pastry
200g fresh curds (or a dry cottage cheese)
30-50g castor sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
grated rind of 1 lemon
30g melted butter
smattering of grated nutmeg
Nowt but the finest
Now the only remaining dilemma – to sup Lancashire or Yorkshire Tea, sipping from a dainty china cup or swilling from a robust mug? Give over and stop mithering! It’s enough that it’s northern born and bred. It won’t hang around for long, so get it eaten!
* My thanks to the very helpful young man who retrieved the last 6 Yorkshire curd tarts for me when I called in at Betty’s, Ilkley – considered a big slice of luck “at that time of day” (after 1pm).