Danish Chemist Revolutionizes Cheese Industry or, The Little Falls-Rennet Connection

by Nan Ressue

Cheesemaking success was in the rennet.

What is rennet? It’s the salted, dried pieces of calf stomach lining saved by the traditional farmer at butchering time and used to thicken milk. The clobbered (thickened) milk was cut into cubes and heated to produce curds. Poor-quality rennet could sabotage the whole process, which happened with painful frequency.

Enter Chrhansen30bistian Hansen, a brilliant young Danish chemist who had been diligently working to create a quality extract—one that kept better, didn’t smell bad, and offered uniform strength. In the early 1870s, he succeeded, leading to the debut of a product that would dramatically change the process from haphazard to dependable. This discovery was welcomed with open arms and promptly introduced into every cheese-making country in the world by the fourth quarter of the 19th century.

David H. Burrell, Little Falls’ business genius, was well-aware of the potential business impact of Hansen’s product. He sent his milking machine invention to Hansen (the first of its kind in Denmark) with an invitation to establish a rennet manufacturing plant in Little Falls.

Hansen took the opportunity. He purchased Lock Island, a 1.5-acre island in the Mohawk River in Little Falls, for $1,100. Construction began on the factory building in 1890. The only access to the island was a fragile wooden wagon bridge and a suspension footbridge. So the city of Little Falls acquired an iron railroad bridge from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad and provided it to be a connector to the island facility. Unfortunately, the bridge was a foot short; the supporting abutments were quickly rebuilt to accommodate it. Today, the site is known as Hansen’s Island.

Within the next few years, additional rennet factories opened in Toronto, Canada and Reading, England. Depots were established in Paris and Budapest.

In 1886, Hansen’s introduced the world to “junket,” a word that means “milk with rennet.” Junket was marketed to the homemaker to make creamy puddings in the family kitchen. After World War I, Junket Freezing Mix was sold for ice-cream making. Frosting and fudge products soon followed.

Salada-Shirrif Horsey Company acquired the Junket brand from Hansen’s along with the Little Falls factory buildings in 1958. By 1962, Kellogg owned the business and added tea packaging to the product line under Salada’s name. Today, the company is known as Redco Foods and stands as a reminder that rennet and Junket are important segments of Little Falls’ amazing history.

Junket rennetStop by the Redco Foods booth at the Little Falls Cheese Festival to learn more and, if you wish, to purchase a box of classic Junket’s rennet custard mix.