The Rennet Story
What is rennet? Where does it come from? Is it vegetarian? If you're confused about this essential cheesemaking ingredient, our friends over at Formaggio Kitchen have done a great job at unfolding some of the mystery. Even if you think you know all there is to know about rennet, some of the facts in this article--like the use of black snails to coagulate milk--may surprise you!
If, as Clifton Fadiman once said, “cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality”, then rennet could be considered the springboard of cheesemaking. Stripped down to its most basic processes, the first steps of cheesemaking involve taking warm milk, adding a starter culture (to convert the lactose in the milk to lactic acid) and adding rennet. The lactic acid begins coagulating the milk in a slow process that yields a delicate curd and some cheeses are still made using this method as the sole form of coagulation. Most cheeses, however, also employ rennet to separate the curds from the whey, speeding up the process and leading to a firmer, more elastic curd.
Photo credit: Grongar