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Where Does Animal Rennet Come From?

liquid rennet being diluted in custard cup of water
I’m a cheese lover, so, please, don’t take me wrong. I’ve just started reading about the art of cheesemaking and I’m genuinely curious. How does the process of obtaining the rennet work? How many baby animals are killed to get rennet for how much cheese?
Firstly, it is important to know that animal rennet is very much a by-product from young animals. It is extremely unusual for an animal to be killed only for production of rennet because, quite apart from anything else, it does not make economic sense and would be very wasteful of the rest of the animal.

The process for obtaining animal rennet is that the fourth stomach (containing the necessary enzymes for coagulation) of the ruminant animal is dried so that it becomes solid. The process varies slightly according to geography and scale of production, but in remote areas the dried stomach is then cut into strips or pieces and preserved in some way, occasionally in salt or just refrigerated. When the time comes to create the rennet, a small piece is soaked and rehydrated in water and then the water—minus any solids—is added to the vat of milk.

Kate Arding

Kate Arding is an independent dairy consultant specializing in small-scale cheese production and an original co-founder of culture: the word on cheese. A native of Britain, Kate has worked in the farmhouse cheese industry for 18 years, first as wholesale manager for Neal's Yard Dairy in London and later helping establish Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods in California. Since 2003 Kate has worked extensively both in the United States and overseas as an independent consultant, specializing in affinage, sales and marketing, and helping small-scale cheesemakers adapt to changing market demands.

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