You know one of the best things about being vegetarian? Getting to eat more cheese – as long as that cheese is made with vegetable rennet.
Rennet is the stuff that curdles milk and causes the solid curds to separate from the liquid whey in the first step of the cheesemaking process. Traditionally, rennet has been harvested from the stomach lining of young ruminant animals like calves or lambs during the butchering process. Any cheese made with this type of animal rennet is decidedly not vegetarian. Fortunately, there are lots of great vegetable rennet alternatives that allow vegetarians to enjoy cheese just as much as everyone else.
Here in Wisconsin, you'll find lots of cheese made with vegetable rennet. We would never want to deprive anyone of the chance to enjoy the tastiest, highest-quality, most award-winning cheese on the planet. No matter what your dietary preferences, there's an awesome array of cheeses here just waiting for you to sample. In fact, that's one of the best things about being in Wisconsin.
Check out our website to meet some of our award-winning cheeses made with vegetable rennet. Search our recipes for inspiration for a cheesy gourmet meal, a game-day spread, or a new version of mac and cheese for dinner on Thursday night. Or read on for the inside scoop on making cheese with vegetable rennet.
Whether making cheese at home or in commercial factories, rennet is the ingredient that gets the whole cheesemaking process rolling. Cheesemakers use rennet very early in the process to coagulate the milk and separate the curds from the whey. The rennet enzymes in cheese include a protease enzyme called chymosin that is particularly effective at causing the casein protein in milk to cling together and form a network of casein molecules, essentially turning liquid milk into solid curds. The casein network also traps fats and minerals in the milk that will be needed to create the cheese.
Animal rennet has been the predominant type of rennet used in cheesemaking for centuries and is still commonly used today. But because this type of rennet is costly and frequently not available at times, cheesemakers have also turned to vegetable rennet. Derived from plants like thistle, nettle, artichokes, figs, and dried caper leaves, vegetable rennet has the same coagulating property as animal rennet. It also has the added benefit of being acceptable to vegetarians, enabling cheesemakers to make true vegetarian cheese.
Additional forms of rennet include microbial rennet, which is made from yeast, fungi, and mold and is also considered vegetarian. And genetically modified rennet is made in a lab by inserting the DNA of ruminant animals into yeast which then takes on the same coagulating ability.
Rennet is an enzyme that coagulates milk and causes it to separate into solid curd and liquid whey. Rennet is one of the four essential ingredients in rennet cheese, along with starter culture, salt, and milk.
Vegetable rennet is made from plant enzymes that have coagulating properties. Vegetable rennet may be produced with plants such as thistle, artichokes, and nettles, but other plants like ground ivy, dried caper leaves, and fig juice have also been known to serve as coagulants.
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In Wisconsin, we love vegetable rennet for two reasons. One, it makes cheese. That's a pretty big plus in our book. Two, it lets more people enjoy cheese – that's a shout out to you, our vegetarian friends. And anything that lets more people experience the eye-popping wonder of cheese is on our shortlist for the next Nobel cheese prize.
See, Wisconsin is a place that's dedicated to doing one thing better than anywhere else in the world: making the finest cheese in the universe. It's why we send 90% of the milk from our fertile dairyland to our 1,200 cheesemakers. And it's probably why we've won 5,552 awards for our cheese – more than any other state or country in the world.
So, when you're ready to try some vegetarian cheese made with vegetable rennet, just make sure to look for the Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge on a label. The odds will be high you're holding a prize-winning cheese.
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.