DIY Vegetable Rennet

I have been doing a lot of research lately in cheese making – specifically cheese making without the use of commercial rennet.

Why?  Two reasons:  1.  In my quest for self-sufficiency, and since I will not be slaughtering a baby cow, goat or sheep anytime soon (traditional rennet is made from the stomach of a calf, kid or lamb), I need to find an alternative way to make cheese. We love cheese.  2.  Did you know that much of the rennet used commercially today is microbial – made from genetically modified bacteria which produce chymosin (the active enzyme in rennet)!  Oh no, GMO!

Why do we need rennet for cheese making?  Rennet is an enzyme that coagulates warmed milk, making the curds.  Of course, any warm milk over time will coagulate on it’s own, but that’s when it has already turned sour.  Rennet coagulates milk when it is still sweet.  You can make a soft cheese using acid (vinegar or lemon juice), but the rennet coagulates the milk faster and produces a firmer curd.

I have discovered that it is, indeed, fairly easy to make rennet yourself from several different plants.  Apparently there are a lot of plants and plant parts that can be used to curdle your milk, including:  purple thistle, stinging nettle, melon, fig, and safflower.  However, since I have both purple thistle and nettle available to me, my investigation concentrated on just these two rennet substitutes.    purple thistle

In my last post I included a picture of a purple thistle that is growing on our future homestead.  I did a bit of research and it looks like this may be a Bull Thistle, or cirsium vulgare, and that the Bull Thistle can, indeed, be considered for cheese making!  Yes!  Also, the purple thistle head from an artichoke works – and we planted artichokes this year!  But, purple thistle rennet can only be used with goat’s or sheep’s milk.  It makes Cow’s milk bitter – especially if aged.

I also found out that stinging nettle can also be used in place of rennet, but the nettle can be used in cow’s milk, as it has a different enzyme reaction than the thistle does, although it may still develop an off flavor if aged.  Nettle rennet can be used to make a semi-hard cheese like feta or gouda.

Instructions for making vegetable rennet from purple thistle

1.  Pick the thistle flower head when it has turned brown, but harvest it before the plant produces the thistle down, in which case it is too late.

2.  Dry the flower heads well, pick off the stamens (the purple threads) and store them in a clean, dry jar with a tight lid.

3.  When ready to make rennet, grind up the dried stamens with either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder until you have 5 tablespoons of powder.

4.  Add warm water (not too hot, you don’t want to destroy the enzymes) to the pulverized stamens and let sit for about 10 minutes. The water will turn a murky brown.

5.  Strain off the liquid.  This is now thistle flower rennet.

6.  The rennet can now be added to warmed milk to curdle it and begin the cheese making process.


Instructions for making vegetable rennet from salted nettle

1.  Use nettles before they go to seed. Once seeds have formed, they are too mature.

2.  Fill a large saucepan big enought to hold about 2 pounds of nettles for 4 cups of water.  Bring to light boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.

3.  Add 1 heaping tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. This helps to draw out the enzyme locked in the nettle leaves.

4.  Strain plant material from the liquid.  This is now nettle rennet.  Use 1 cup of nettle rennet liquid to about 1 gallon of milk.

When using the nettle rennet, the amount of salt used in further cheese making (after curds have formed) should be reduced because of the amount of salt added during extraction of the rennet.

Now I can’t wait to get my purple thistle to bloom so I can make my own vegetable rennet! Next year I hope to have some artichokes (I think our plants were too young this year) and I will try making cheese with some of the chokes I let flower.  In future posts I’ll let you know how it all turns out!

You should check out the following sites for more information – it’s where I got most of mine!

 eHow;  Joy of Cheesemaking;  Punk Domestics;  Monica Wilde

If you make your own cheese using vegetable rennet and have a post about it, please let me know!  I would love to add a link to your post in the list above!

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Homestead Happenings

We went up to our future homestead this past weekend to work on our road, check on the fruit and nut trees, and enjoy a peaceful afternoon relaxing in the screened gazebo.  It was a pleasant, cool weekend and true to the weather report we got a few sprinkles on Sunday.

The walnut trees are doing well. In the picture below you can see the 300 gallon water tank behind them that we picked up off of Craigslist for a very good price.  The 300 gallon tank lasts about 3 weeks, which means each tree gets about 50 gallons of water each week. I suppose this is quite enough because they look really happy!

gravity flow irrigation

The gooseberries are forming quite well.  I have never done anything with the gooseberries on our property because, unfortunately, we have the VERY prickly type.  I have heard these can be made into jelly, I just haven’t tried yet.  Besides, I have been informed that gooseberries are the intermediary of a fungal disease that attacks white fir trees, so we are actually considering pulling them all out.  Perhaps I should try making a batch of jelly first to see if there would be a reason to keep them!

spiky gooseberries

The blackberries are also starting to size up.  Blackberry cobbler is a favorite of mine – warm out of the oven with a large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  YUM!  This year I may try making blackberry leather or I may try my hand at canning some blackberry pie filling.  Well……. maybe I should just live it up and try both!

green wild blackberries

I checked on our resident toad who has made a home under the apricot tree.  Yup – he’s still there.  Judging from the picture, he seems to have grown quite a bit as he now fills out the entire hole in the ground. Gee, no wonder I don’t see any insects around the orchard area!  But wait – you don’t think he’s stuck in there now, do you?

toad under the apricot tree

Speaking of critters, we found this critter nest along the side of the new road we are cutting into the north side of our property.  We haven’t seen anything coming or going, but whatever it is seems to have built itself a pretty cozy abode.  We haven’t had the heart to tear it down yet.  Actually…. well you see…….. it’s just that……..truthfully we are a little afraid of what may really be in there! A friend of ours suggested it’s just a wood rat’s nest.  If it is, that’s a pretty big wood rat!wood rat house?

The mystery plant in the compost pile has revealed itself as a cantaloupe, which is very cool because my hubby and I adore cantaloupe.  It has curly tendrils now and I know that I have thrown plenty of cantaloupe seeds on that pile in the past year.  Actually, we like just about any kind of melon, so if it turns out to be a watermelon (it’s possible) we will be happy with that also.  In our backyard garden at our home in the Sacramento Valley, we are growing two different kinds of melon (intentionally) that we have never tried before, both heirloom cantaloupe type melons, so I certainly hope they are good. The potatoes in the compost pile seem to be doing well also!growing melons in compost

The peaches are getting bigger and look quite healthy – except for the holes in the leaves.  I wonder what is causing that?  We inspected the leaves and couldn’t find anything, so we are hoping that whatever creature caused these holes has gone away now.  This is only the second year in the ground for this tree, so I’m not sure if we should leave all of the peaches on the tree.  We may have to thin them again next week. freestone peaches

This is the purple thistle plant we have growing here and there around the future homestead.  I have read somewhere that a certain purple thistle can be used instead of rennet to make cheese.  I am going to have to do some more research into that, because if it is true, wouldn’t that be a great find!  Another way I would not have to depend on a store, which is another step toward self-sufficiency!

purple thistle

I actually took quite a few more pictures, but I think this is enough for one post.  However, thought I would leave you with a picture of the mess our friendly neighborhood squirrel left behind on part of our driveway!   Actually, at the time I took this picture Mr. Squirrel was up in the tree eating another cone, with the pine cone bracts raining down on us below.  We stared up at him – he stared down at us. Then, just out of the blue the squirrel dropped the remainder of his cone and nearly hit me on the head!  I am quite certain he did that on purpose!  😉 squirel pine cone

Thanks for taking a tour with me on my future homestead!

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