What’s the difference?
With so many cheesemaking recipes popping up on the internet these days, it’s super important to figure out which ones are legit. Unfortunately, not all of them are good; some might even steer you wrong.
If you’re making cheese at home, sorting through all the false info can be a total headache. That’s why understanding the real deal about using things like junket tablets and rennet for making cheese is a must.
We’ve been making cheese for over 20 years, and our goal is to share the right stuff with you, so everyone can whip up yummy homemade cheese without a hitch.
What’s the rule for cheese making?
I love the idea of inventing new recipes, but it annoys me to call a recipe something it’s not. It causes confusion or disappointment when expectations are not met. So, what am I talking about? Most cheeses aren’t cheese unless they include a cheese culture. Is that OK to feel annoyed by this? Maybe it’s because of my training or the executive chef that has pounded correct terminology into me. Well, not literally; I have no visible scars. 🤣🤣🤣
Rule Number One – If you are making feta cheese, you need to add a cheese culture. This is what makes it cheese!
I’m going to show you a recipe that one of my students found on the net. I’m not pointing fingers at the recipe writer because maybe they simply don’t know (or maybe they don’t care).
- 500 ml of milk
- 1 junket tablet
Mix these together at 37°c and leave to set for one hour.
Strain well, and ta-da!
Nope, solidified milk.
OK, if you strain this and press it, it’s sort of like the same texture as feta. However, junket tablets have more ingredients in them than you need for cheese, and you’ve left out one critical ingredient. The Cheese culture!
Add a cheese culture to a recipe like this, and you’re going to get a gorgeous flavourful soft cheese rather than a milky-flavoured curd. And then there are recipes that call for you to add a junket tablet to yoghurt. Well, yoghurt is a culture, but it’s a yoghurt culture and not a cheese culture, so you’ll have a firmer set of yoghurt. Still not Cheese!
So hey, that’s fine if that’s what you want, but you’ve made a product that’s more like Labna, and you probably didn’t need to use the junket tablet at all, as Labna is yoghurt that’s been strained to within an inch of its life. I suspect that the use of junket causes the whey to separate faster, but I’d be more inclined to use rennet for this too.
Junket tablets or Rennet for cheese making?
We’ve seen a lot of discussion on Facebook groups where people are having issues making cheese. One of the reasons behind this is that the wrong ingredients are being listed for particular recipes and the procedure is a little off. Being a bit off can cause all sorts of issues, I know because I get emails every week about them.
What you get when you make cheese with junket dessert tablets isn’t quite the same as cheese made with straight rennet tablets, but it’s similar. We decided to do some research to answer some of our students’ questions. We tested the two ingredients side by side.
The first thing we noticed on the Junket packet is that there’s no mention of making cheese with it. To my mind, there’s probably a reason for that. The Junket Tablet makers probably know that to make cheese, you need a cheese culture, or maybe they realize that they’ll be inundated with questions about the cheese-making process because things may not have gone quite to plan for the maker.
The next thing we noticed was to set 500 ml of milk we had to use one junket tablet. But wait! When we make our gourmet feta (that’s the cheats, quick and simple one. but still cheese because we put culture in it), we only needed 1/2 a rennet tablet to set up 2 litres of milk. So if we wanted to make a 4-litre batch of Greek feta, we would need 8 junket tablets or just the 1 rennet. Just for the record, 4 litres of milk might sound like a lot, but it only makes around 1KG of fetta (or less).
What’s the difference between Junket and Rennet (and when to use each)?
At this stage, a little test was in order. We set out two 1 litre jars, added 500 ml of milk in each and added one junket tablet to one and 1/8 rennet tablet (crushed and accurately measured) to the other. For the junket tablet, the pack told us to heat the milk to 37°c to set the junket milk but we didn’t bother doing that with the rennet/milk jar because we’re used to doing it without warming and know it works fine. After an hour the junket was pretty much set to a very soft curd, but not much of the whey had separated.
Then for the rennet milk. This took a little longer at the start, which we assumed was because it was cold milk straight from the fridge and had to come to room temp before it would do anything. So after a few hours, it had done its job. There was about a cm of whey sitting on the top of the curds whereas the junket still only had about a tsp. Removing the whey is what we need for making cheese.
We’ve listed both tablets and what they have in them, and they’re not exactly the same. Here are the differences between Junket and Rennet Tablets in the ingredient list.
Junket Tablets ingredients:
- Calcium Lactate
- Corn Starch
- Tricalcium Phosphate
- Calcium Stearate
Store them in the pantry.
Rennet Tablets ingredients: (Vegetable rennet)
- Cellulose microcrystalline
- Microbial extract of rennet enzyme, magnesium stearate
Can be stored in the pantry. The Mad Millie tablets we use are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration although the best before date is lengthened by popping them in the fridge.
Can you see the difference here? If you’re making desserts, then Junket tablets are brilliant, but if you want good curds for cheese making, your better off to use a rennet tablet that’s fit for purpose. In fact, why would you want cornstarch added to your cheese anyway and what are those other things? You want to release the whey from the curds, but cornstarch is going work toward preventing that isn’t it?
Liquid rennet is also available. We don’t use it anymore, as it needs to be kept in the fridge, and the tablets seem so much easier for us.
How can you tell if your rennet is still OK to use?
Your rennet should state the best before date on the packet. If you’ve had it in the fridge, our experience is that it will usually last longer than this date. If you have disposed of the packet, or the date is not visible, this is how you test your rennet:
How to tell if your rennet is OK:
- Heat 1 cup (250 ml) of milk to 32°C (90°F) (do not add citric acid).
- Dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet (or 1/4 tsp liquid rennet) in 2 Tbsp of cool, non-chlorinated water and stir well. (use cool water from a boiled jug as I show in my classes)
- Add the rennet to the milk at 32°C (90°F).
- Stir gently from the bottom to the top for 30 seconds.
If the rennet is working, the milk surface will begin to firm or form a slight film after two minutes. After 6 minutes, it will have developed a curd that will hold a knife cut.
At the time of writing this post, it’s only $3.20 AUD for ten rennet tablets. Each tablet will coagulate 4 L of milk, that is 40 Litres of setting ability in just one pack. So go for the good stuff and get rennet tablets if you’re making cheese. Here’s a link to the Mad Millie site where they have their cheesemaking ingredients.
We’ve added a lot more detail in our cheese making courses, but I see so many people having issues with this I thought I’d explain this bit.
Now don’t get me wrong, Junket Tablets are great for making Junket, or to make Junket Ice-cream (helps make ice-cream creamier), but they don’t seem to be great for most cheeses. So if you’re using junket tablets trying to make cheese and you’re whey is creamy coloured when it should be clear, it’s because the rennet portion in the junket tablet isn’t strong enough. Sure you can add more tablets, but why would you?