ChrisatBedfordCheese / March 4, 2011, 1am

So today we are putting on our finest cardigans, our coke-bottled glasses, and popping an XR Adderall, because today, Blog-o-sphere, we are going back to Cheese University. Sweet. First stop? Soft serve machine in the dining hall.

Well, not really. But today, I thought I’d gather all of you guys around in a semi-circle of those little desks where the writing surface and the chair is connected (remember those?!) and give you a talkin’ to ’bout the chemical universe behind cheese making. Specifically the world of RENNET. Which is a small galaxy owned by Cher and a group of Swiss cheese makers.

At this point, RENNET is holding me together.  Cheese humor!

At this point, RENNET is holding me together. Cheese humor!

Rennet is a key ingredient in the beginning steps of making cheese. So let’s review what happens in the cheese conception stage….

Step 1.) Find a group of cows. Or sheep. Or goats. Or even water buffalo! Then lure them into a shed and milk them. (In a totally not creepy way). Collect the milk and then set your animals free. Or milk a bunch of different animals and combine the milk. So. Much. Fun. Already.

Step 2.) Pour your milk into a vat and gently warm it (or if you want to pasteurize it, this is the time you heat it up to 145 degrees, keep it at that temperature for half an hour, and then keep going….whatever, it’s up to you. Go ahead and pasteurize your cheese. You big baby.) and pour your STARTER CULTURE into it.

Starter culture is one of several types of bacteria that helps ferment the sugars found in milk. When you ferment the sugar, you make the milk slightly acidic.

So burny and necessary for cheese.
So burny and necessary for cheese.

But Chrissssssssssss. Why would you want slightly acidic cheese? Won’t that taste grossssss?

No! And the reason why it is actually a good thing is because of RENNET! Let’s investigate step three.

Step 3.) Add your rennet. Rennet is an enzyme that can be either animal or plant derived (more on this later) that helps the milk fats coagulate. It basically separates the fats from the liquids. The CURDS from the WHEY. Gah! You then pour off the whey, and you have your baby cheese! Eekers! And the slight acidity produced by the starter culture makes the rennet act fast and efficiently!

So the first thing to keep in mind when learning about rennet is that it is a natural enzyme that is designed to coagulate and digest milk fats. It also comes from a natural place that often grosses most people out. That place is called YOUR STOMACH. Well…not your stomach, but baby animal stomachs. Literally.

I will excuse you to dry heave for a second as you think about the linings of animal stomach that are all up in the wedge of cheese you just bought….

So, rennet is the enzyme that is found in the stomachs of most mammals. What this enzyme does is help animals digest and suck up nutrients from a mother’s milk. So how do we get rennet for cheese making? Hold onto your chair, because it’s about to get gnarly.

No more rennet talk!

No more rennet talk!

So once people figured out that this enzyme helped make cheese, the stomachs of baby animals that had been slaughtered for food would be collected, cleaned, dried, and then cut into little bits. Then, they were put into a solution of salt water and vinegar and left to sit for a while. It’s then filtered, and in the resulting solution, you have enough rennet to make HELLA CHEESE! These days, this process is sped up with some sort of enzyme extracting chemical solution that is spilled all over the place. I don’t really understand how THAT works, so if you want to come over and give me some tutoring on what’s going on, that would be super.

How did people figure out that rennet is needed for cheese? There are lots of myths and legends surrounding the dawn of cheese time, but it seems like the consensus is that at some point in time, someone stored some milk in a not so clean animal stomach and then forgot about it. When they tried to get at it, the curds had coagulated and turned into cheese! Imagine the guy who was like “Hey guys! Look at this gooey crud coming out of this old animal stomach! Pay me 5 sheckles to eat it?!” (Dylan, I’m looking at you…) The rest, as they say, is her-story (gotta be PC on the blog.)

Ok, so let’s get one thing straight. Get ready and pay attention here. All cheese has rennet. That’s right. All of ‘em. (OK, so not alllllll cheeses, but most of them. And is cottage cheese even really a “cheese?” It’s more like a curd things anyways so it doesn’t really count….right?) You get a cow cheese, it has cow rennet in it. You get a goat cheese, it has goat rennet in it. You get a sheep cheese, it has sheep rennet in it. Anyone who says they eat rennet-less cheeses is just plain stupid.

True ladies only eat rennet less cheese.  And ham.

"True ladies only eat rennet less cheese. And ham."

“So does this mean that cheese isn’t vegetarian? There is stomach lining enzyme acid juice in my cheese that is holding it together?!?! I’ll sue…”

Yes. Most of the time. But not always. There is also a good number of cheeses that use rennet found naturally in plants! Why they have rennet in them, I can’t figure out…but it can be put to good use. It does the same thing as animal rennet, and results in a TRULY vegetarian cheese. A popular plant to get rennet from is the thistle, and it is often used in Spanish and Portuguese cheeses. The flavor is usually pretty weird…like a creamy pile of old fruit that has been sitting in sheep’s diaper for a couple of days. Mmmmm….sounds good, right? They may be weird, but they sure are delicious.

So that’s the basics of rennet! Yippee! Any questions? Didn’t think so. Someone once brought a pig rennet cheese into the store that they had smuggled out of Italy. It tasted gross and dirty and like a poopy pig pen. So I say…don’t mess with the science if it ain’t broke. And that’s the truth.

Alright lovey doveys. MORE CHEESE BLOGGIN’ LATER!

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