In Brisbane the summer rains have revitalised my garden but have also contributed to raising the humidity without dropping the temperature. By the end of these steamy days we are all wilting, appetites dulled by the heat and even the traditional rocket and spinach salads look limp and uninviting. This is when I resort to a kale salad that with its sturdy leaves always looks bright green and tempting. I don’t add too many ingredients to a kale salad, as they get lost amongst the strong curly leaves. In fact a simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, with a scattering of walnuts and of course slivers of Parmesan with its slightly nutty sweet flavour is absolutely perfect.
Parmesan is one of my favourite cheeses; I love its flavour and its versatility in cooking. So of course when I found an opportunity to visit a small co-op cheese-making facility in Emilia-Romagna I didn’t hesitate. Our guide was a charming English woman married to a local Italian and she explained the process as we watched.
The amount of fat is crucial in the production process. The previous evening’s milk from which the fat has been removed to make butter is combined with the fresh morning milk in enormous copper cauldrons. Here it is heated gently and stirred and whey that is rich in lactic acid is added from yesterday’s production to acidify the mixture. The heat is turned off and calf’s rennet is added to coagulate the milk. Curds start forming soon after and are stirred using a traditional tool called a ‘spino’ that breaks the curd into granules.
The mixture is reheated to 55°C and cooked for about an hour. The curds sink to the bottom of the vat and start to form a mass. Then using wooden paddles the cheese makers lift the curds in a muslin cradle before a cheese maker expertly slices the mass in half. These ‘twins’ are wrapped in muslin and hung from poles to drain. The whey is collected for the next day’s cheese making or to feed the pigs from which prosciutto is made.
The curds are then transferred to round wooden containers where they are given a unique number, branded with month and year and dairy registration for easy identification. After further draining the cheeses are placed in long vats of brine where they bob around for 24 days.
The final maturation process occurs when the cheese wheels are placed on shelves in curing rooms where they rest for at least a year and up to three before being released for sale. Every 10 days the cheeses are wiped free of mould, brushed dry and turned. Independent testers determine whether the cheese meets the high standards expected by the Consorzio el Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.
This kale salad travels well if taking on a picnic or to a friend’s home and is delicious.
Kale salad with walnuts, Parmesan and lemon.
- A couple of leaves of kale
- ¼ cup of finely chopped walnuts
- Grated rind of a lemon
- Slivers of Parmesan (or Pecorino if you don’t have Parmesan)
- olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette
- Extras: slivers of black olives and sliced green shallots
Remove the hard core and leaf stems from the kale then cut it into small pieces. Pour a small amount of lemon juice into a bowl. Because kale is so tough, which does mean good fibre in your diet, it improves if it is massaged with a little lemon juice and salt. Dip your fingers in the lemon juice and massage the pieces of kale before placing in the salad bowl. This also gives it a lovely colour. You can see the difference in the colour in the first picture where there is a small section of the leaf that wasn’t rubbed. It is much paler.
Kale gets better also if it is allowed to rest for a couple of hours so this salad is even nicer made ahead of time. Sprinkle the kale with finely chopped walnuts and grated lemon. Place slivers of Parmesan over the top of the kale and toss in a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. I sometimes toss slivers of stoned Kalamata olives and shallots over the top of the leaves.