Cheese making is a cool hobby, and one that will impress your friends. But if you are thinking about trying your hand, consider first the dark underbelly of cheemaking. The secret they don’t want you to know; whey.
Whey is the by-product of cheese making. It is the watery part of milk, and contains some fat and protein that didn’t make it into the cheese. And boy-howdee, do you get a lot of it. A 2 gallon batch of say cheddar or manchego, results in close to 1.75 gallons of whey; that’s a lot! You could just pour it down the sink, but it seems such a waste. I’m always looking to find new uses for it.
I should mention that whey comes in two main forms. Sweet whey is the by-product of rennet cheeses (basically any hard or semi-soft cheese). It is slightly sweet and tastes kind of milky. Acid whey is the by-product of acid ripened cheese; chevre, cottage cheese, etc. It is sour by virtue of being acidic.
Acid and sweet whey have roughly the same amount of protein; ~ 12 g per 100 g serving. Acid whey contains over twice the calcium (2 g compared to 0.8 g) and half the fat (o.5 g compared to 1.1 g). So acid whey appears to be the healthier option, however I find it the less tasty.
Last year I attended a talk by Jonathan Bloom author of American Wasteland (@wastedfood). His book explores how much food is wasted in the U.S., mostly by farmers and factories that deem it unworthy of the market. His philosophy was that food should be used in this order:
1) Eat it
2) Feed it to livestock
3) Use it to make energy
4) Compost it
I use this as a guide. I also notice he doesn’t say pour it down the drain.
He’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1) Just eat it. Sweet whey doesn’t taste too bad. In a smoothie you don’t even know it’s there and it gives needed fluid and some nutrients. (use 1-2 cups). Some people talk of adding sugar and lemon to acid whey, to make ‘whey lemonade’; I haven’t tried it.
2) Make whey ricotta. With sweet whey, which is typically hot at the end of the cheese making process, you can simply boil it. The proteins will coagulate, like an egg white, in fact the resulting solution looks almost like egg-drop soup. Strain out the cheese and stir in some salt. If you want creamier ricotta you can add milk to the whey first or stir a bit of cream into the chilled ricotta. Problem is, 2 gallons of whey that’s been ricotta’ed is still almost 2 gallons of whey, very little is used in this process. Additionally, if you make ricotta, the resulting whey no longer has much protein in it, now it’s just nutrient water. (use 1/2 – 1 cup?)
3) Make bread. Whey can be substituted for water in a bread recipe. It will hydrate the flour and add a little richness to the bread. (use 1-2 cups)
4) Cook with it. I try to put whey anywhere I’m using water or even maybe broth. I now use whey as the cooking liquid for most grains; 2:1 ratio of liquid to dry. In oatmeal and polenta is adds an awesome creaminess. To crumblier grains like bulgur you can actually see and taste little bits of ricotta mixed in. I don’t need to add much of anything to these grain when cooked with whey, salt and acidity seem about right. They’re super delicious! (use 2-4 cups)
5) Feed to the cats and chickens. Both love whey and relish every sip. 5 adult chickens can consume a pint of whey in one sitting. Kitties must show restraint and are probably only consuming a few tablespoons. (use 1-2 cups per day)
6) Feed it to your acid-loving plants. My research on this is incomplete, but just about every summer and winter vegetable I like growing, as well as apples, stone fruit, and berries, likes acid. The plants also benefit from the nutrients. I dilute the whey 1:1 with water before feeding. (use virtually unlimited at my house, a great sink for whey)
7) Pour it over compost. I know you’re not supposed to put oily things in compost, and there is a bit of fat in whey. But I read you could and I figure the moisture, acidity, and nutrients are good. (use virtually unlimited)
8) Get creative. One day I made challah and I had a dozen egg whites. I mixed them with whey, peanut butter, oats, whole wheat flour, a little honey, and whatever dried fruits and nuts I had around, and baked at 350 for 45 minutes. The result was a “protein” bar, with the consistency of a brownie and the taste of a peanut buttery granola-cake-bar. OK, it wasn’t the most delicious thing I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t too bad. And it’s great for a quick healthy snack or after-gym pick me up. I have also been thinking about making faux egg-drop soup with the whey-ricotta process.
If you are a cheese maker and have any other suggestions, please submit them below. If I use your idea I will make a new post and give you credit.