Rennet 101

In the process of my short-ish (10 years) cheese making career, I learned much from my excellent teachers. Unfortunately, I also learned a few lessons the hard way. I try to blame it on my hair color, but that doesn’t really fly. One of these difficult lessons was, if you mess up adding the coagulant (or forget it entirely…opps.) you don’t get cheese. You just get this unusable milky stuff that has to be dumped down the drain. I thank the Lord even now, for such a gracious and understanding Uncle/Boss who never gave me a harsh word and reassured me of the lessons I could learn in that situation. And so, welcome to Rennet 101! Class is officially in session!

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We use a microbial rennet for our Gouda, but some cheeses (such as our Paneer) use other kinds of coagulants. Basically something acidic to cause the milk to react and form little curds. Citric acid (lemon juice is common), vinegar (which is what we use for our Paneer), and tartaric acid are other options used in cheese making.

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When I made cheese in our plant, rennet was this syrupy brown substance (think a true maple syrup “that-came-out-way-too-fast” consistency, not so much Mrs. Butterworths slow-as-tar thickness) responsible for turning milk into curd. Exact down to the millimeter, we stir it into a squeaky clean, ultra sanitized bucket of water to dilute it into more of a light amber color. Then, with the paddles spinning furiously, we pour the rennet into the huge vat of milk. The rennet stirs for exactly 2 minutes and 20 seconds before we halt the paddles, and let the milk rest for half an hour. This is when it does its magic and everything from there on out is decently simple…as long as you got the rennet correct.

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This is my cousin Marlies, holding a Feta curd. She’s a good sport allowing me to plaster her beautiful face all over. 😉

This magic cheese making ingredient has four different types.

  1. Calf Rennet. Made from the (chymosin) enzymes found in a calf’s stomach lining, this is the original and most traditional type of rennet.
  2. Plant Rennet. This is where plants are soaked in water to extract a thickening enzyme similar to the one found in calves.
  3. Genetically Engineered Rennet. Since this one is a little more technical, here is a real definition of the process.

    “Chymosin chromosomes are extracted from an animal’s stomach cells then implanted into yeast cultures that act as a host. The host culture encourages the growth of new chymosin enzymes. The new chymosin enzymes are separated out and purified.”
    www.cheese.about.com

    Sounds pretty scientific doesn’t it?

  4. Microbial Rennet. Enzymes similar to chymosin (the one found in the stomach lining of a calf), can be found and extracted from some molds to produce this type of rennet. This is the rennet we use to create our fabulous cheeses!

*Side note, if you read “mold” and thought “ew.”, mold is actually a good thing and very common in the cheese world! Cheese making strictly uses molds which are safe to eat, and are used often to produce unique flavors and aromas.

Various rennets produce different results in cheeses, so you have to know how to work with them. They tend to be a little touchy, hence the rennet being the most exact bit of cheese making. In my mind at least!

Rainy Days

Watching the rain come down brings joy to my heart. I think we all can agree it’s been a little toasty this summer and many of us Washingtonians are really missing our famous rains. The rain signals summertime coming to an end and promises the return of the crisp air and foggy mornings of fall.

I absolutely love being curled up with a fuzzy blanket on the couch, hot drink in hand, just watching the rain come down. The more the better!

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Every once in a while it can be fun to go outside when the rain is especially intense, just to be in awe of the power of creation. For a little fun, puddle jumping is the best. Even as adults! All this rain also makes one especially glad they have a warm home to run into when the chill starts to set in. More often than not rain is better enjoyed when inside, where it’s warm and dry!

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Now, I may have a different story if I actually worked in the rain on a regular basis. I have memories of my dad coming in for breakfast after finishing the early morning chores in the freezing down pour of our winter rains. It’s not unusual to see those working on the farm rock a fashionable green or yellow plastic poncho along with their daily grey rubber boots. Even after peeling off this ensemble, my dad would have to change into fully dry clothes before having breakfast and then heading back out.

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Guaranteed, they have envied the warm, dry workplaces during the rainy season, but that doesn’t stop them from going out and doing what they love.

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Rain means extra care is taken to ensure everything in our barns is in tip top shape to keep the cows comfortable. No cow is allowed to get wet, muddy, or cold. Even if the farmers are consistently all of these things.

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This is one of the many reasons our farm simply cannot become certified organic. To become a “Certified Organic” farm, our cows would have to have year round access to a pasture. If our cows were in the pasture during the rainy season (which to be honest, is a good chunk of our months), they would be up to their knees in mud. In other (higher, dryer) areas, pastures are lovely! Unfortunately the rain that keeps our state so beautifully green makes it a tad difficult, for us personally, to keep the cows in pasture all year long. With our specific piece of land, it’s just too wet!

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Next time you run through a rainy parking lot into the grocery store to grab a gallon of milk for your weekend cereal, remember the farmers who are working in that same downpour. Rest assured, they make sure our herds are tucked safely away. Cozy as can be with their favorite snacks, watching the rain come down from their warm, dry, and clean stalls.

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8 Reasons Why Summer is Better on a Farm

Summer time is always better on a farm. Even a girly girl can go tromping through the woods sometimes!

  1. Bare feet! Shoes out, calluses in! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE shoes, but this is a freedom that can’t be beat. A regular washing of the feet was required before we were able to come back into the house, but it was worth it.
  2. “Down below”. This is how everyone refers to the area past the barns.
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    Fields, a forest, creeks, sand pit, the river- if any fun was to be had it was here. Running around building tree forts, swimming in the natural ponds along the creek, summertime was spent wild a free with out a worry in the world. This was also the best way to guarantee we wouldn’t wake my dad up from his afternoon nap. Four rowdy kids and their neighborhood friends do not mix well with a daily 3am wake up call.
  3. The “Boom”. With summer comes irrigation. With the irrigation comes a massive sprinkler we fondly called “The Boom”. Nothing beats a hot day better than running through a grass field getting soaked by a huge stream of water being shot over your head!
  4. A creek! Once in a while I would be really brave and join my brothers exploring. Something that was always sure to be a day of adventure was following the stream from the farm to the river. We would come home with scrapes from blackberry bushes, stinging nettle bumps, smelling of skunk cabbage, covered in muck, but with the biggest smiles on our faces and stories to tell. *Side note, shoes are typically not a good idea when attempting this. I can’t tell you how many shoes/boots were sucked off our feet never to be seen again!*
  5. A river bar. Now we weren’t allowed to go down here by ourselves until we were older, but the private “beach” next to a beautiful (icy cold) river quickly became the older kids hangout. HayI can’t tell you how many summer nights were spent gathered around a bonfire. Country life at it’s best.
  6. A haymow. Did you know you can make the absolute coolest forts ever in a haymow? Some of the bales were too big for us to maneuver, but the smaller, lighter, straw bales made great tunnels, rooms, and walls! I can’t tell you how many things I would smuggle up there to outfit my “house”.
  7. Other Farm Kids! We were blessed to grow up with multiple cousins around at all times. However, our family was much larger than biological. BoysOur farm in next door to the Smit Family farm, and like us, the family had moved into the area to farm and would pass their livelihood from one generation to the next. Therefore, not only did these kids have one farm to run around on, but two! Multiple generations of these families grew up (playing and working) together on the combined biggest playground ever! 
  8. These. icecreamsandwich-15 I’m going to cheat a little bit for this one! We didn’t have these growing up (with the exceptions of some church fundraisers), but we have them now!! Nothing says “summer on the farm” like one of these babies. And yes, I am addicted already.

If you asked my parents how it was raising kids on a farm they may tell you about the constant dirt and random animals we would bring into the house. But they would also tell you how it was the best possible thing for their kids to grow up in an area where their imaginations could run as wild as their feet. Some may think farmers don’t appreciate the land as much as they should, but I can tell you this. My family loves the land they have been entrusted with. Generations have grown up here learning respect for nature and the way it works. It was the best childhood you could ask for. Honestly, if we didn’t respect the land enough to take care of it in the best way possible, it would never last long enough for future generations to explore. We wholeheartedly believe God has blessed us beyond what we deserve, and because of that we have an even bigger responsibility to manage those blessings properly.