Rennet is the enzyme that breaks down milk protein to form curds, the first step toward making cheese. Most cheese today is made with rennets obtained from the stomachs of slaughtered newborn calves or from bacteria and fungi. It is a little known fact that the "vegetable" rennets from bacteria and fungi are increasingly derived from genetically-modified organisms.
Herbs have been used to curdle milk in the past. Safflower, artichoke, teasel, thistles, stinging nettle, fig leaves and melon have all been used. But the most commonly used herb was yellow bedstraw (Galium verum), also known as "cheese rennet". It is said to contain a milk curdling enzyme that is effective enough to make cheese.
According to the 16th Century English herbalist, John Gerard, ‘the people of Thuscane do use it to turne their milks and the cheese, which they make of sheepes and goates milke, might be the sweeter and more pleasant to taste. The people in Cheshire especially about Nantwich, where the best cheese is made, do use it in their rennet, esteeming greatly of that cheese above other made without it.’ Apparently, Cheshire cheese was made with bedstraw rennet up until the 19th Century.
Because yellow bedstraw is the source of a yellow dye, it’s use in cheese-making also added a rich colour to cheeses. According to English herbalist Mrs. Grieve, author of "A Modern Herbal", people from the Scottish Highlands and from Gloucestershire were known for making richly-coloured cheeses with yellow bedstraw.
I was unable to locate details of how yellow bedstraw was used to curdle milk or what part of the plant was used. I suspect the flowering tops were used, the same part used to dye fabrics yellow. And because the responsible agent in bedstraw probably is an enzyme, the procedure may have been as simple as steeping the fresh tops in milk to start the curdling process.
Matthew Groves wrote:One of my suppliers got back to me on the contents of the vegetable rennet.
They said, "It is made from enzymes (chymosin)."
Free of preservatives yet extremely shelf-stable, this superb quality double-strength microbial vegetarian rennet has excellent flavor, aroma, and texture properties without the typical bitterness for which some vegetarian rennets are notorious. It consists of 100% chymosin and is produced by lab-controlled natural fermentation of Rhizomucor miehei fungi, followed by purification which discards the fungi to keep only the chymosin enzyme. This first-rate product is used by many top artisan producers.
No animals have been involved in this rennet's production process and it is therefore compatible with vegetarian diets (as well as Kosher restrictions. Please ask for certification if needed). Do not confuse this with vegetable rennet that is made out of actual vegetables such as our Thistle rennet, or FPC rennets which are GMOs used in large factories. Our rennet is GMO-free. This is as close as you can get to animal rennet performance!
1 Collect thistle flower when it becomes brown. Harvest before it can start producing plumes. If the feathers are evident, that means it's too late - the flower is very mature and therefore unusable. Be sure to collect it dry enough to last throughout the year.
2 Thoroughly dry the flower before storing it in a clean, dry container with a lid.
3 Put some thistle in a mortar and start grind it until it becomes a fine powder. Make sure it is well crushed.
4 Repeat Step 2 until there are 5 tablespoons of powder. Put it in a bowl and pour hot water over it. Soak for five to ten minutes.
5 Wait until the liquid becomes dark, concentrated and brown.
6 Pour the liquid into a strainer to separate the liquid from the plant. That's rennet from thistle flower.
7 Add a gallon of warm milk and expect to get to curdle.
Erica Wisner wrote:Acid-set cheese is different from rennet-set cheese, but still very good. Ricotta is acid-set; you can use the whey from other cheese, add a bit more acid and salt, and heat it up hotter to make ricotta. It coagulates a different protein, delicious to eat it with a spoon or use in traditional Italian pastas and desserts (ricotte cheesecake!).
Thekla McDaniels wrote:
If you want the specifics of these recipes I've mentioned, I can provide them.