The Cheese of the month for January 2017: is not a cheese but rennet

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I bought these rennet tablets ages ago at Dean & Deluca in St Helena/California, and then just forgot them in my kitchen cupboard. You’re probably familiar with that: I really should try this… but not just now. What intrigued me into buying them was the historic English dish named junket.


But let’s start at the beginning: what is rennet? An enzyme that newborn mammals produce in one of their four stomachs to make their mother’s milk curdle and therefore easier to digest (and extract the calcium essential for bone building etc). Cheese as we know it mostly is the „reconstruction“ of that procedure: milk is first made to acidulate and then to curdle, by adding standardized, pure chymosin (that’s how the enzyme is called) or a preparation of a calf’s, lamb’s or kid’s cleaned and dried abomasum (that fourth stomach). Thus the curdled, solid protein can be separated from the liquid whey (which still contains protein, but that’s a different story) and left to age. So in fact these tablets are exactly what you can detect artery-like on this dried calf’s abomasum.


And what is junket? It got nothing to do with junkies. At least not directly. Etymologically both probably go back to the latin word for rush (the plant – but it’s very complex, and also relates to press junkets and other kinds of merry, free-of-charge festivities). No, the junket that made me buy these tablets is a historic English sweet dish for which fresh milk is made to curdle by adding rennet (and then perhaps was left to drain in a basket made of rush).

And so finally I gave it a try this Christmas, during my hibernation. Spiced milk, sweetened with a little honey, lukewarm, the tablet crushed in a little water, the two mixed very briefly – and after a couple of hours I had a wonderful, delicate jelly that slipped ever so tenderly over the tongue. Here it is, in seasonal attire on top of a cranberry jelly…


To sum up my findings: 1. Rennet tablets don’t seem to have a sell-by date. 2. Rennet also works on un-acidulated milk. 3. Transport (in this case to my brother’s Christmas party) and junket only go together if the tongue-caressing beauty can actually drain in a basket. Because even minimal  agitation causes fractures in the jelly, and that has exactly the same effect as cutting or stirring the curd in a cheese vat: the curdled protein contracts and ejects whey – which doesn’t look that good in your dessert glass. But still tastes delicious! I wish you as much peace and happiness as possible for this new year, may your cheese life be open and a rich one.

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