Making Cheese With Stinging Nettle Rennet

17 Comments

My farmer friends at the Beekman Farm write extensively about their problem with stinging nettles as the bane of their existence. Infesting the precious garden and giving them bee like stings whenever possible. Nettles are extremely hard to control and given the 200 year old farm and ages old animal poop, nettles will run the show.

The nettle stems are four-sided. It has a creeping, stretching root from which new shoots emerge. The dull, dark green leaves grow opposite each other on the stem. They are thin and sort of egg-shaped with a toothed and tapered end and covered with stinging hairs. The hairs on the leaves are particularly painful.

Stinging nettles are bad news but you can seriously turn negative into a positive. Nettles loose all their stinging qualities when cooked and they are an extremely useful, edible plant. Stinging nettle has flavors similar to spinach and cucumber when cooked and is rich in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Young plants were harvested by Native Americans and used as a cooked plant in spring when other food plants were scarce. It is even a substitute for animal rennet for the making of a wonderful soft herbal cheese.

When making cheese, enzymes are required to thicken the cheese and make it firmer. Stomach enzymes are more commonly used to coagulate the milk to make rennet. Typically rennet is taken from the stomach of calves and goats and is used in the production of most dairy products. It has an ability to separate the solid curds from the liquid parts of the dairy.

Native Americans as well as the Scottish, discovered that stinging nettle can be used instead of stomach enzymes to make an very herbal softer to semi-hard cheese like a feta or gouda.

Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound stinging nettle (YOU MUST USE GLOVES OR YOU WILL BE SORRY!)
  • Water
  • Saucepan with lid
  • Timer
  • Spatula
  • Colander
  • Bowl
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Container

1. Place 1 pound of stinging nettle into the saucepan with gloves. Fill the saucepan with water until the water covers the stinging nettle. Set the saucepan on the stove top and bring the water to a boil.

2. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Turn down the temperature of the stove when the water begins to boil and cover the saucepan with the lid. Allow the water to bubble and simmer until the timer goes off.

3. Stir the stinging nettles with a spatula occasionally as the water boils and bubbles. As the nettles cook, the sharp hairs soften, making them safe for consumption. The water takes on a greenish tint and may appear foggy, which is only the excretion of the natural enzymes produced from boiling the nettles.

4. Place a bowl in the sink and the colander on top of the bowl. When the timer goes off, take the saucepan off the stove and pour the contents into the colander. The liquid will go straight through to the bowl, while the stinging nettle stays trapped in the colander. Remove the colander to expose the bowl and liquid.

5. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the liquid in the bowl. If you notice that the salt is being absorbed immediately, add another tablespoon. Allow the mixture to cool.

Add the rennet to very hot not boiling milk and let it sit for several hours and you will have a nice soft spreadable cheese and curds.

If you are going to use the stinging nettle rennet with milk, use  1/2 cup of the rennet for every 1 gallon of milk you want to coagulate. Store leftover rennet in an air-tight glass or plastic container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Note: the high salt content of this rennet prevents cheeses that to be created that are ripened a significant length of time. After the rennet has been added the salt inhibits the ripening characteristics of the curd. It will work best for cheeses that are salted shortly after the curd has formed, and less salt will be needed during the salting step as well as less salt if you are brining.

Now that you have curds mold them and turn them into the cheese that you desire with the proper forming, weighing the cheese down adding additional flavors and aging. Basically now go forward with your favorite cheese recipe and enjoy!

Amy Wexler ~

References:  Cheese of Antiquity by Lady Katerina Owcza Kobieta

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Making Cheese With Stinging Nettle Rennet

  1. What if you didn’t strain off the leaves of the Stinging Nettle and let them be part of the cheese? Probably chop them before adding the milk. Or strain them off, chop them, then add to the cheese. Or be brave and chop them before cooking, then you wouldn’t have to strain, just add the milk. Wouldn’t the leaves be good or am I just clueless?

    • Your not clueless Alfred. The leaves are high in sodium and are coarse in texture, so to have the subtle taste and texture, I choose to take the leaves out and add less salt, unless you want a really salty cheese for your cooking purposes you could leave them in. This is all trial and error, there are no strong fast rules in flavoring your cheese or making other creations. Have fun and play around with it and see what results you come up with.

  2. Pingback: Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

      • Thanks so much! I’m actually wanting to use this info as a plot point in a novel, so now all I have to do is confirm nettles are in Orleans Parish, Louisiana LOL.

        I found you through Susan Wittig Albert, by the way, and I love what you share here!

  3. Hey Kay, I have heard that nettles are not safe to eat after they flower. That, after flowering they have a chemical that causes liver damage.

  4. Hello Amy,
    could you tell what I did wrong? I took 220gr (about 0.5pound) of stinging nettle leafs and boiled it under water for about 40mins. Then I warmed up some milk (ok maybe I boiled it). The milk I used was not fresh – it’s normal milk with 1.5% of fat from supermarket (UHT). I poured some of nettle “tea” to hot milk and – almost nothing happened. No curds, no nothing. I’m leaving some milk and rennet base to settle up overnight – and we will see… But I’m disappointed a little bit. Once I’ve managed to make a small amount of mozarella like cheese with older milk only by heating it up.
    But now I’m not able to make even curds – the milk will not coagulate at all… Can you help me? I can buy some pasterised milk from our local farm (3.5% of fat) but I don’t want to spend money for nothing…
    Thanks

      • ok – I’ll give it a try. But – this is what I’ve got – http://www.q3.cz/images/96nettle_tea_rennet.jpg after boiling nettles on moderate temp for about 40mins. Left to right: 1) first take, 2) second take with salt, 3) what’s left after I tried to reduce it by boiling it again – I’ve left it in the pan overnight and put it into a jam-jar this morning.
        Do you recomend fresh milk or do you think UHT milk is fine (1.5% of fat). I can get some pasterised fresh milk from a local farm (they sell it over vending machine – though).

      • Anyway – do you think salt is absolutely neccessary? I think – not only one or two teaspoons of it. I’ve just read Katerina’s article about making cheese – and she recomends “add as much salt as will dissolve with agitation” . If you look at my jars – it’s about 500ml or more – how much salt I’d have to use??? I’d end up with salty water at the and after all….

    • It might be your milk. UHT milk usually won’t curd. Be careful of regular pasterized milk too as sometimes they heat the milk almost has high as UHT milk. I just had this problem last weekend making mozzarella.

  5. Pingback: DIY Vegetable Rennet | Making Our Sustainable Life

  6. This is an amazing recipe/tutorial, cheers for sharing it with the rest of the world :). I might stop tap dancing on my nettles now that I know they are so useful

  7. This is very interesting! Do you have any idea if this might work with nondairy milks? I know cahsews can be cultured with probiotics, maybe this rennet would have a similar effect?

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