Cheese. Is. Awesome. Pretty much everyone agrees about that. But you know what makes cheese so amazing? Animal rennet. This is the stuff that starts the process of turning a vat of creamy, liquid milk into a wheel of solid, tangy cheese. Animal rennet has the power to coagulate milk, separating the watery whey from the solid curd – the stuff that will be made into cheese. Without rennet, you'd never turn milk into mozzarella, cream into cream cheese, or curd into colby.
Here in Wisconsin, our cheesemakers are magicians with rennet, transforming the milk from our fertile dairyland into 600+ different flavors, styles, and varieties of cheese. That just goes to show the awesome power of animal rennet.
Take a cruise through our website to meet some of Wisconsin's award-winning cheeses made with animal rennet. Or scroll down for more details on the role of animal rennet in making the world's most perfect food.
iIt's said that cheese was most likely invented thousands of years ago when one of our forbearers tried to transport milk in a pouch made from the stomach of a calf or lamb. At the end of the journey, the milk had turned to cheese – thanks to animal rennet.
Animal rennet is a complex collection of enzymes that's taken from the stomachs of young ruminant animals – calves, lambs, and kids (young goats). The key enzyme in animal rennet, chymosin, causes the casein proteins in milk to stick together and form a solid curd while releasing moisture (whey) and trapping the fats and minerals from the milk that are essential for making cheese.
Cheesemakers also use other kinds of rennet. Vegetable rennet is made from plants like artichokes, nettles, thistles, and dried caper leaves. Microbial rennet uses molds that have the same coagulating power as animal rennet. Genetically engineered rennet is made with yeast that's been injected with cells from a ruminant animal, giving the yeast coagulating properties.
Animal rennet is available in liquid, tablet, or powder form. Liquid rennet is easier to measure and is more often used for small-batch rennet cheese. Rennet in tablet and powder form has a longer shelf life without needing the preservatives that liquid rennet requires.
Rennet is a set of enzymes used to coagulate milk during cheesemaking. These enzymes help cheesemakers separate the liquid whey from the solid curd that will eventually become cheese.
Animal rennet is taken from the lining of the fourth stomach of young ruminant animals. Animals are not slaughtered for rennet; rather rennet is extracted when these animals are butchered for meat and is part of an effort to make use of the whole animal.
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In Wisconsin, we thank the cheese gods for animal rennet, because we can't imagine where we'd be without it. Probably living a humdrum life eating plain pasta, grilled bread slices, and empty pizza crusts.
Fortunately, thanks to animal rennet, we get to live the cheese life instead. In Wisconsin, that means an omelet with Wisconsin havarti for breakfast, a sandwich with a local provolone for lunch, a dinner of pasta with prosciutto and Wisconsin parmesan, and aged cheddar with apple chutney for dessert. In other words, a steady diet of the tastiest, highest-quality, most award-winning cheese on the planet.
Next time you're craving a taste adventure, just look for a cheese with the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge on the label. That's when you know you are living the cheese life, too.
Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?
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In Wisconsin, we make more flavors, varieties, and styles of cheese than anywhere else in the world. We believe in tradition, producing everything from Italian classics, like parmesan and ricotta, to swiss cheese and cheddar varieties. But every Wisconsin cheesemaker is an innovator as well, which is why we have so many Wisconsin originals, like colby and muenster. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, potatoes au gratin, or a charcuterie board, Wisconsin cheese makes every dish and recipe tastier.