August 27, 2017

Fig Sap Cheese

Something I've been wanting to experiment with for awhile is making my own vegetable rennets. There are a number of plants which have traditionally been used to make cheese, and I think being skilled in some of these is a good preparedness plan. With fig season about done for us, I decided to start my experiments by using fig sap as rennet!

The sap of figs is a natural latex substance containing a form of rennin or chymosin, an enzyme that separates the milk solids from the liquid, i.e., Little Miss Muffet's curds and whey. Chymosin is primarily found in the stomach of newborn ruminants, such as calves and kids, where the curds are a more digestible solid for them than the liquid milk. Cheese makers have used animal rennet for millennia to make cheese.

Rennin is found in smaller quantities and different forms in some plants. Figs for example.

Fig trees have a latex-like sap that contains a natural rennet.
NOTE: If you are sensitive to latex, wear gloves!

Green figs are picked in the morning when the enzymes and sap flow are highest. It takes only a very small amount of the sap to make cheese. To experiment, I worked with 1-quart quantities of raw goat milk.
  • 1 quart milk
  • 3/8 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/8 cup filtered or well water (i.e. not chlorinated)
  • several drops of fig sap

Mix citric acid into milk, heat to 90°F (32°C), and stir in the fig sap.

This is a 1/64 tsp measuring spoon with two drops of fig sap.

Let sit until clean break (that's where you can slice the curds cleanly with a knife). According to an article at cheesemaking.com, the milk should curdle in about 12 hours. Mine still wasn't set after 24 hours and I was going to feed it to the chickens but got distracted. When I got back to it three hours later, I did indeed have curds and whey! I drained the whey and worked in 1/4 tsp sea salt.

I use a cotton kitchen towel instead of cheese cloth.

I took a timid taste and knew I was on to something here! It had the texture of cream cheese with the taste of sour cream. It was only a small sample, but I experimented with several ways to use it. Spread on crackers, mixed with ranch dressing for chip dip, melted in a bit of milk for Stroganoff-like noodles, and my favorite...

Better than cream cheese and jelly.

For the next batch I doubled the fig sap, got a clean break in about 21 hours, and ended up with a slightly firmer, milder flavor cheese. Still delicious but different. And so easy!

There are a number of plants that have been used to make cheese. Here is the list I've collected: thistle, cardoon, ground ivy, sheep sorrel, butterwort leaves, mallow, yarrow, teasel, knapweed, perennial ryegrass, narrowleaf plantain, henbit, shepherd's purse, kudzu, globe artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke flowers, papaya, caper, Irish moss, pumpkin, kiwi fruit, ginger, safflower, and paw paw. Not a lot of examples of cheese actually made with most of these, mind you, so I have no idea what kind of results most of these would give.

Some are said to also affect flavor, which may or may or may not be acceptable, but I'm guessing this is somewhat subjective. Thistle rennets in particular, are said to make cheese bitter as it ages. On the other hand, I've read that isn't the case with goat milk! I'll have to experiment with the plants I have growing locally and see which cheeses we like best; then not worry about the rest.

Soft cheeses don't keep as well as hard, aged cheeses, so small batches are good for just the two of us. Especially in summer when our temperatures are too warm for hard cheese curing. I save that for when the weather is cooler.

I also read that a clean fig branch can be used as a source of sap too - simply use it to stir the milk. I will have to try that one after our fig harvest is done. There are directions here for doing that.

Fig Sap Cheese © August 2017 by Leigh

22 comments:

  1. I have many green figs, two or three lots a year. I wonder if you could freeze the sap for use when the figs are finished?

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  2. That is an excellent question, and something I should experiment with myself. According to the one article I linked to at cheesemaking.com the latex apparently can be dehydrated, "One c.c. of the latex yields 0.10 to 0.15 g of the dry powder which retains 90-95% of the activity originally present in the latex for several months at room temperature, more if ascorbic acid is added." Based on these experiments, I didn't think it would be especially easy to collect a large amount of sap, however. But maybe dried twigs would do(?) Something useful to try and figure out!

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  3. I've always wondered how they made cheese, without packet cultures. Cheese has been made for centuries, so they would've had a system using natural ingredients. Nice to know the many, and varied ways, it can be done. I know mango excretes a resin too, but not sure if it's poisonous to use in cheese making, or not.

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  4. Chris, I find these lists people make but there is rarely any actual information as to exactly what part of the plant to use and how to use it. There have been experiments with fig sap, thistle, and nettle than any of the others, so we know those work and have some information about how to use them in cheesemaking. The others are a big question mark!

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  5. We don't have figs, but this is so interesting. I used to make cream cheese with our goat's milk and loved it!! Thanks for sharing this!

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  6. Kristina, it was a lot of fun and made a really good cheese. Now I'm motivated to try more plant rennets.

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  7. Fascinating; wish I lived close enough to try your product! There's GOT to be a way to save the sap for later use....

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  8. Leigh, you're always trying new things. I admire that. Seems like most of them work out, too.

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  9. Michelle, it was definitely a cheese to add to my repertoire!

    Harry, thanks! But even when something doesn't work out, I always obtain some valuable information. So experiments are never a waste. :)

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  10. Could it be used in say a sour cream and fruit coffee cake?

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  11. Theresa, oh yes! Dan thinks it would be good on baked potatoes too. At least the first experiment could. With less sap and a longer wait time, I think the cheese had time to sour naturally, giving it a lovely sour cream taste. The second one was much milder. So it seems that the amount of sap can influence the results.

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  12. At last, a good use for figs! :) Can you tell they're not my favorite fruit? This does sound very interesting. I learn so many things from you.

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  13. Sue, figs are pretty blah, aren't they? This year I added a bit of cinnamon stick to my jars of canned figs hoping for some pizzazz. Fig jam is pretty unexciting too, but I've discovered that it makes a great partner to stretch other fruits such as strawberries. It's also excellent in an orange fig jam!

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  14. You are making me want a dairy goat again SO MUCH!

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  15. Quinn, you can't milk cashmeres?

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  16. how about lady's bedstraw? haven't tried any of them myself, because I'd have to buy the milk - but I found this very interesting, and with practical experience:
    https://monicawilde.com/wild-vegetable-rennet/

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  17. I LOVE this post Leigh!!! :)))
    This is so informative, I knew that vegetable rennet existed but I never knew what it was made from. I don't have access to any of these things, but maybe in my future I can try making my own too! I think it would be a great match to my cheese making. Thanks for the wonderful information! Your sandwich looks devastatingly delicious! :))

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  18. I have never heard of this cheese making source... that is so cool!

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  19. Bettina, +1 for the lady's bedstraw. I have some sort of galium growing around here, so I'll have to fine tune my identification to see if it's one I can try for a batch of cheese!

    Rain, you are rapidly becoming a cheese making pro! The commercial veggie rennets I've seen have mostly been liquids, so I'm guessing they have the same preservatives that the liquid animal rennets have. Making one's own is not only frugal and fun, but I know exactly what's in my final product.

    Meredith, thanks!

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  20. That is absolutely fascinating! My husband makes cheese sometimes and buys rennet, but it would be more fun to use our sap from our figs. Thanks so much for the good directions and all the info! This is great :)

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  21. Who knew? Not I that's for sure! Absolutely fascinating and I am interested to see if the fig twig in stirring would have the same result as the sap...that would be great and easy. Looks very tasty!

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  22. M. K. I'm pretty excited about the results. I've had trouble making a nice spreadable cheese with purchased rennet, so this is perfect!

    Sam, it's got me really curious about trying other plants as rennets. Folks say the plant influences the flavor, so that will be interesting. The fig sap is definitely a keeper.

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