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What is Rennet?

Rennet: The Catalyst for Cheese’s Complex Flavors and Textures

What is Rennet?

Rennet is an enzyme used to coagulate milk and turn it into cheese. There are four main types of rennet that cheesemakers can choose from- animal rennet, microbial rennet, plant rennet, and fermentation-based rennet. The two most popular types of rennet are microbial and animal rennet. Without rennet, there would be no coagulation; meaning milk would never curd into cheese. 

What are the Different Types of Rennet?

Animal Rennet is obtained from the stomachs of unweaned baby calves, lambs, and goats. This rennet is naturally present within the stomach of these animals, it inherently turns the milk in their stomachs into a soft cheese to help with their digestion. Although animals are not killed for the making of this product, it is not considered vegetarian.

Microbial rennet is derived from the fungus Mucur Miehei and is a great vegetarian-friendly source of coagulant. Coagulation traps the fat particles and is what allows the liquid in milk to turn into cheese. The enzymes in microbial rennet work well to break down the protein bonds and separate the curd from the whey, getting maximum curd formation without the bitterness of some vegetable (plant) rennets.

Plant-based rennet is attained from cardoon thistle, artichokes, or nettles by being soaked in water to extract a similar enzyme to the other rennets. Plant-based rennet is not as popular as animal rennet because of the inconsistent result that it can yield during the cheese-making process. This rennet can also affect the flavor of the cheese by leaving a bitter taste after the cheese begins to age. 

The last main type of rennet is fermentation-based rennet. This rennet uses genetic engineering to reproduce the same enzymes that you would find in animal and microbial rennet. This rennet is also considered to be vegetarian. 

Whichever type of rennet you decide to use will play an important role in the cheese-making process and leave you with different flavors, textures, and types of cheese.