Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Miserable Failure

No, I'm not referring to the Bush administration (though the shoe fits). I had my first complete failure at cheesemaking on Sunday. It's entirely my own fault, as I tried to get clever and do an experiment. There are a variety of plant extracts that can be used as rennet to coagulate the cheese. One of these is stinging nettle, which is just coming up outside right now. I thought that I'd make an infusion of stinging nettle leaves and use it to rennet the cheese. I did not try to find instructions or look it up on the internet. After all, how hard could it be? After getting not even a hint of coagulation, I did go to the internet and found very little in terms of specifics. Several of the methods called for steeping the nettle leaves in boiling water. This is a bad sign, rennets usually work through an enzyme action. You can also coagulate cheese through the actions of acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice), but this is generally not used to make hard cheese. Boiling water should destroy enzymes, so I suspect that the coagulation that you can get with this method just comes from the formic acid that nettles contain (it's the chemical source of the sting that the plants can give you). Formic acid is also produced by ants, whence the name. I wonder if anyone has ever tried ant cheese? At any rate, I don't plan on trying the experiment again. There is a bit more information about using thistle flowers as rennet, and this does appear to involve enzyme action. I may give that a try later in the summer.



At 16:47, Blogger BentonQuest said...

I have not heard of ant cheese, but Ripley's Believe it or not had a story about maggot cheese! Yummy!


At 22:52, Blogger thingfish23 said...

I'm enjoying the hell out of this weblog, Doug. I'm sorry it took me so long to stop by, but I'll be up to speed soon!

The wife and I want a couple of goats, once the financial sting of the chicken coop wears off. Then I'll be embarking on the ol' cheese-making journey myself.

For what it's worth, you've been linked!

At 23:12, Blogger Ur-spo said...

well, you being the good scientist knows there is no 'bad' experiment if you learned something from it.
I'll pass on the ant cheese; doesn't sound kosher.

At 12:26, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Ben- Gross!! (but really cool). I had never heard of that before. This is one of the things that I really love about blogging.

Thingfish- Thanks for stopping by. I have really enjoyed your blog, too, and several of the ones that you have linked to. I've reciporcated your linking here.

Spo- One of the things that I discovered in researching a bit on nettle rennet is that most cheese isn't Kosher. Animal rennets violate the dietary laws, and vegetable rennets (like nettle) have frequently been used as Kosher alternatives.


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