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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67 thoughts on “DIY Vegetable Rennet

  1. Well, I’ll be…I wouldn’t have thought those pesky weeds would be worth anything, but now I am rethinking them. We have those things everywhere it seems. I should start harvesting them rather than killing them!

    I love soft goat cheese so I wouldn’t need them for that (lemon juice will work for me), but if I should decide to try some hard cheese this is a good thing to know.

    • I was thinking this might be a win-win situation because we can make cheese from the flower heads, but if we harvest the flower head it won’t reproduce – right? That way only the mother plant will come back every year, but we don’t end up over-run with Bull Thistle! I can’t wait to try these myself – we’ll see how it goes! Thanks for your comment! Vickie

        • Yeah… I hear you! I have had limited success with the vegetable rennets. I still want to experiment more with cardoon (supposed to be the best), but for now I am sticking with simple farmer’s cheeses. Thanks for stopping by, Edward.

    • Nettle is also a great antihistamine. Lots of weeds, as we call them, are very useful. A great book to read is Grow Your Own Drugs by James Wong. Sorry a bit off the cheese making topic but good information if you’re interested in natural remedies.

      • I have read that book by James Wong a few years ago! It has a lot of very useful information and was very interesting to read! Thanks for reminding me, Carol. I will have to check it out of the library again and read it once more!

    • I just want to make sure if this plant is the one. Are all the plants/weeds that have that puff that you used to blow and make a wish on is the correct plant/weed? I am so worried to get the wrong on and waste my milk so expensive.

      • Actually, cardoon is the BEST thistle for making rennet. The one I used worked so-so. But, I think you may be mistaking dandelion for thistle! Dandelion will NOT work! Once we have our permanent perennial garden built, I am going to grow cardoon just for this purpose.

    • Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to try it myself. Now I have two ways to make cheese – acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and vegetable rennet – without having to buy anything! Of course, I may delve into the different starter cultures in the future when I get more comfortable with cheesemaking. My husband reminded me that he has a smoker yesterday – I think we will experiment with smoking some of the semi-hard cheese also! Thanks for stopping by! Vickie

    • Thanks Betty! I must admit that it is a fairly slow process. Just learning things as we go along. It seems that the more research I delve into about toxins on commercially grown foods, GMO’s and such, the more urgent I feel the need to get back to homegrown and basic foods! Thanks for visiting my site!

  2. this is BEYOND amazing. THANK YOU. I am vegetarian and happen to be trying to figure out how the heck to make cheese when I am not a fan of the traditional rennet!! your awesome! I also happen to have an abundance of milk thistle & nettle 🙂

    • I know, right? Who would have known! Actually cheese has been made this way (with cardoon, a purple thistle related to the artichoke) in Italy, France and Greek for eons. It’s just us modern 😉 folks learning the old methods again! Let me know if you try this and what your results are. I will post my results when I try also! Thanks for stopping by and for your great comment! Vickie BTW – love your website!

  3. I’m extremely excited by this post! I’d really like to try making vegetable rennet with fig sap but haven’t found instructions on how yet. Did you find a how to for fig sap? And I couldn’t get any of the links you gave to work. Is it possible to fix them or is it just my computer? Thank you!

    • Yes, you can make cheese from fig sap – but only with goat or sheeps milk. I found some instructions here, down toward the bottom of the post. Let me know if you try this and how it turns out! I will post my results when I get them using the purple thistle. Thanks for reading! Vickie

  4. This was so interesting. I think it’s fabulous that you have researched and going to try this. Love to hear about the results! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

    • Yes, can’t wait to try this! I will post with pictures – whether I have success or failure! Thanks Jann!

    • Haha! When I was a little girl I fell into a patch of stinging nettles and have hated them ever since! Now, I think I just might change my mind! Thanks for your hop – it’s great!

  5. Thanks for the great information. It really is wonderful to find out that the two of our more “obnoxious prickly weeds” actually have such a wonderful purpose. You have a wonderful blog with great information and you write some very interesting, inspiring articles.

    • Thanks Mary! I am not a strict vegetarian, but I do shy away from just about anything labeled GMO. This vegetable based rennet was just the ticket for me! Glad I could help you out.

      • Thank you for publishing this; excellent information!

        One thing though, not all GMOs are created equal. Commercial rennet is a perfect example of how the technology _should_ be applied.

        It basically converts harmless bacteria into little enzyme factories, and they pump out the exact desired product with much greater efficiency than larger organisms. No butchered young animals, and no GMO at all in the end-product, unlike the crap industry tries to shoehorn into food crops.

        • I know, I know – lots of people claim that there are certain things that GMO’s are good for, and that may well be true. I’m just a bit of a ninny, however, when it comes to what I put in my body lately. I suppose, however, this is much better than killing baby animals just to make cheese. Thanks for stopping by today, Vlad, and for your informative comment!

  6. Thank you for the introduction, these methods inspired me a lot.
    I went to extract the enzymes from papaya flesh and seed as the rennet, and it can work with cow milk, though took over 10 hours to finally see the coagulation.

  7. hi,

    just came across this article and di some followup search:

    There is quite an interesting related article (but in German) http://www.ksla.se/anh/files/2012/01/Kap-7.pdf
    it mentions on page 1 and 2 a number of plants with latin name too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galium_verum (in German called Rennet Herb)

    http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/fig/msg021304505973.html

    http://cheesemakinghelp.blogspot.com.br/2011/04/making-rennet-from-fig-sap.html (Figs)

    Cheers
    Ati

  8. hi vickie,

    Actually, at the moment, rennet alternatives are not such a high priority for me.

    ***My wife and I lived for some time in Europe and we love the fermented probiotic drinks like buttermilk, yoghurt, acidophilus, bifidus, actimel, yakult ect.. but here they are relatively expensive and also we could not find such selection as we were used to.
    Also if I get more seriously with cheese making I would like to grow my own starter cultures.

    At the moment I try to find out a way for a long term suitable storage of such lactic acid bacterias cultures. I know I can keep them in the fridge or freeze them in different ways but would prefer to store them at room temperature. So I’m working on this.

    ***The second thing is quite similar but involves baker’s yeast. Even though I do my own sourdough for some breads, baker’s yeast is for other things quite useful – also the truth is – baker’s yeast rise much faster which is often convenient.

    We usually buy dried or fresh yeast (which is actually not all that cheap either) so recently I got interested in maybe culturing my own yeast.

    As an alternative here is an interesting blog: http://originalyeast.blogspot.com
    I did some (wild yeast /original yeast waters) from grapes and bananas and it worked quite well but if one wants to store it long term one still would need to keep it in the fridge or freezer – so I try to find also a way to store it at room temperature.

    Anyway I prefer to cultivate the yeast from a store bought baker’s yeast: bit afraid of catching other bacterias which in my limited way I’m not able to identify.

    ***so at the moment I just “experiment” with these two things and if I find a good solution I will try to get some clean cultures of yeast / lactic acid bacteria from an university or so an cultivate them myself (which should not be too much work if I can store them also for long term at room temperature)

    ===Just a thought on the rennet topic 🙂 ====
    – I would skip the German paper even though it is interesting – to much work to translate – there is quite a bit of info out there in English

    – from my short 2 days search (I mostly skipped fast over the info) it seems that there are a good number of plants based alternatives BUT it seems that the “taste” is often a problem – especially for cheeses which ripe longer.
    Also if the ‘smart’ people did not find something satisfactory maybe it’s not such an incredible alternative.

    – Having said that, there are often things useful and possible for a household which might be not worthy the effort for commercial use

    – Anyway: it seems that there are still ‘native cheeses’ made from plant rennet in particular Spain/Portugual, Asia (Indonesian, India) and Afrika (Nigeria) so it can not be too ‘bad in taste’ 😉

    Cheers
    Ati

    PS: if you search in google quite good starting points are phrases like:
    milk coagulants plants
    milk-clotting plants
    (I’m not a native English speaker as you surely observed – so ‘milk-clotting’ was a new word for me 😉

    And in the more scholarly articles they have usually references to other related books, article one can search for. (BTW sometimes they want one to pay for a full article but if one searches it is often free from an other university or so)

    Also patents are sometimes interesting as they explain (in a lot of words) how things are done. (example of temperature or so)

    BTW: I just saw for the first time that google offers also an option to search for scholarly articles interesting something new for me ): no wonder they just launched it on: Tuesday, November 19, 2013

    http://scholar.google.com

    Cheers
    Ati

    • Good morning, Ati. You are right about the problem with an off-taste while using vegetable rennet and aged cheeses – I have read that also. Again, I would like to thank you for all the information. Your English is beautiful!

  9. Hello from South Africa! Thank u for an interesting blog, which I will continue to follow! I make smooth cottage cheese because I don’t need rennet, but have been doing research on plant rennet for a while as I want to move over to harder cheeses. Looking forward to learning more from u!

    • Greetings, Serennah! I plan to grow some cardoon this year and harvest it for the rennet. Apparently this is the plant that works best for goat and sheeps cheeses. I will post my progress on growing, harvesting and using the cardoon! Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Hi, some fantastic work through all your various endeavours, thanks so much for sharing its incredibly interesting. You mention melon as also used for vegetable rennet, do you happen to have a recipe for this? Thanks so much!

  11. hi, thanks for this very wonderful article, I’ve been doing research also about vegetable rennet, and I’m planning to use melon, can you give me some idea on how to make it?

    • Sorry, I have no idea how to make vegetable rennet with melon. If you try Google Scholar, however, they might have a few articles. This is where I do a lot of research online. Good luck!

  12. Hi, very interesting post, and comments !
    While living in France I made my own goats cheese, only soft ones but they were beautiful. But now I’m back in the uk I’d really like to make vegetarian/vegan cheese. The plant rennet is a definate with goats milk (if I ever manage to find raw goats milk ) but I would love to try it with almond milk. Have you ever tried plant rennet when making nut cheeses ?
    I’m not vegetarian it i very rarely eat meat as organic meat is ridiculously expensive, so it’s really just to satisfy the carnivore in me from time to time. So the difficulty of finding raw milks has made me turn to having a go at nut cheeses.
    Any info from those that have given it a go would be greatly appreciated.
    Cheers x

    • I am not sure, but I don’t think the protein structure in almond milk is the same as in dairy milk, so it wouldn’t do the same thing. That being said, I have experimented with almond milk yogurt, which can then be super strained beyond the point of greek yogurt, into a cheese like structure. However, I have never cooked with this – just added some herbs and nuts and made a cheese ball dip sort of thing. I did make a baked almond milk “cheese” which I then used in pizza – see the post here: You can try this. This cheese had a kind of feta like taste, but milder. If you try either of these methods, please let me know what your results were!

  13. Some time ago I tried to make cheese with rennet from galium verum (yellow bedstraw). It was a first try and resulted in a very hard cheese. But at least it didn’t taste bitter. As after that I hadn’t any more raw milk available I stopped experimenting and lost the rennet recipe, but it was somewhere on the net.
    Succes everybody!

    • Apparently the best thistle is Cardoon. I was going to grow some this year but since I don’t really have a garden I decided to try next year. Apparently artichokes work as well, but I prefer to eat the artichokes. 🙂 Anyway, I am going to have some fun ‘spearmenting with the fresh raw goat milk and the purple thistle. Keep your fingers crossed that it works out well!

  14. Pingback: Why do we need rennet for cheese making? - Best Preparedness

    • Sorry it took so long to get back to you, Manuel. I have heard that certain types of melon can be used as a rennet substitute, but I don’t know which ones. However, if you want to research it further, you can get a lot of information on Google Scholar! That is where a lot of scientific and historic papers and documents are. I go there quite often and have found a lot of valuable information! Happy Holidays!

  15. This is interesting. I am not now, nor never have been, a cheesemaker. However, last autumn my partner and I met a woman in the Garrotxa area of Catalunya, North East Spain. She had a liitle garden which drew our attention. She kindly gave us a tour of her plot and also gave us some seeds. Included amongst these were the seeds from a cardoon she told us was used in the mountainy regions in the production of sheeps’ and goats’ cheese.
    We didn’t understand at the time, but my research has brought me to your blog. As I type, her seeds have germinated and are doing very nicely.
    We’re in Co. Galway in the West of Ireland. Our climate may be a touch damp for Catalonian cardoons, but fingers crossed. If the plants do well, seeds could be posted.
    Good luck.

    • Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. My latest post explains it all. I hope you have good luck with your cardoons! Please let me know how every thing turns out! If you have a blog, I would love to see it.

  16. What a wonderful Post..really enjoyed reading and learning from it. And a great stream of chat and comments. Now I’m going to scour the rest of your blog as I am an architect with a passion for all things eco!!!! Albeit over in England!!

    • Are you a building architect? That is one of the professions that I considered as a teenager growing up! You will be interested in some of my future posts, then, about building our new home using insulated concrete forms (ICF). The architect we have been working with has sent the plans to an engineer so we can have a “wet stamp”, which makes it official in the eyes of our local building department. We are getting a late start in the season to start building our home, but better late than never! Thanks for your kind comments!

  17. I am so glad I came across this article. I have been wanting to make my own cheese but I am not able to buy rennet around my area and really wanted to just make it myself. In summer I have every “weed” required. And right now I have a yard full of young nettle. I am so excited to try this. I love nettle tea and steamed nettle any way so this is right up my ally. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. =) =) =)

    • You are so welcome, Megan! Good luck. Using vegetable rennet, especially those made by yourself, can sometimes be tricky. That being said, many people have successfully used these cheese recipes. You may need to experiment a bit to see what works best for you, but then again, you may be very happy with your first batch! Please come back and let me know how your cheese turned out!

  18. Hey great article! I’ve been making soft cheeses with lemon juice and home made apple cider vinegar so far. These cheeses don’t melt so I’m ready to try rennet but prefer to make it from scratch. This is alternative will make life so much easier! My question is: how much thistle rennet to use per gallon of milk? With more thistles than nettles, I’m going to give that a try.

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you, Nate, for your comment! As far as the thistles as an alternative to rennet, it seems they are all different! One year the thistles from our property made a nice soft cheese, the next year, not so much. Unfortunately I’m not sure if there is any real way to regulate it, and it becomes more of an experiment every year to see how much will work. Sorry, I wish I had a better answer. However, I would love to know how you use your homemade apple cider vinegar to make cheese! Please send the recipe!

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