Monday, May 27, 2013

No Whey? No Way!

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away!

Curds and whey? Though I chanted this rhyme throughout my childhood, I never really knew what those words meant until just a few years ago. If you let fresh milk sit out on the counter for a few days, you'll see it separate into two parts: solid curds and liquid whey. Traditionally, milk was typically consumed cultured, as it soured quickly for lack of refrigeration (it did not spoil, just soured). Since many people don't drink milk raw anymore, it's more likely that you know whey as the liquid that appears atop your yogurt. Ever wonder what that was? Now you know. :)

Though sometimes considered a by-product of cheese-making, this powerhouse protein maintains an impressive list of credentials. To name a few:

Whey is handy to have lingering in the real foods kitchen for many reasons:
  • Soaking grain overnight (as in these pancakes, this orange cake, these sloppy lentils). Soaking in this way helps predigest the grain and free up nutrients for absorption. When soaking grain, the general rule is to add one tablespoon acid medium, such as whey, to each cup of liquid in the soak. For example, I could soak 1 cup of 9-grain cereal overnight in 2 cups of water and 2 T. whey. In the morning I would add more water and cook. (Some people rinse the grain in between.)
  • Lacto-fermenting, as in these zingy ginger carrots, these zippy fermented drinks, this zesty salsa, or this homemade mayonnaise. I might add that you can ferment without whey, though it adds probiotics, acts as an inoculant, and speeds up the process. It has been used this way in some traditional dairying cultures.
  • Adding to a smoothie for a probiotic protein boost.
  • Here are a whole bunch more ideas! Hope you get as excited as I did reading over them. :)

So now down to business. Whey is so easy to come by, right in your own kitchen! Honestly, the best part about it is the delicious cream cheese you get on the other side of the drip-cloth (I've only ever used raw milk, so I can't speak for the yogurt variety). Here's a little how-to:

Raw milk (could also use buttermilk or piima milk) or high-quality plain yogurt

If using yogurt, no preparation necessary. If you are using raw milk, let it sit out on your counter until the milk solids (curds) just start to separate from the yellowish whey (the sooner you catch the separation, the creamier your end cream cheese will be). Depending on the freshness of the milk, this can take anywhere from 1-4 days.

1)  Set a strainer in a large bowl, and line with a clean kitchen towel. Pour the separated milk or yogurt over the cloth. From experience, I've learned that cheesecloth is too thin, even quadrupled over itself. Tea towels are perfect, as long as you don't use a red one before it's been thoroughly and repeatedly washed (also learned by experience). ;)

2)  Cover and let sit for several hours. There's the cream cheese on top.

There's the whey beneath.

3) When the dripping has slowed considerably, tie up the towel with the solids inside (no squeezing necessary!), and rig it up so it can continue to drip a while longer. I usually do something tricky, like hang the bag from a long spoon and balance it over a deep pot.

4) When the dripping stops completely, it's done!

The cream cheese will last several weeks in the fridge and the whey several months. I've only had my whey go bad once, and it smelled clearly moldy. When it's fresh, it doesn't smell like much of anything.

"Whey, which contains the milk sugar and most of the minerals of the milk, is an excellent food... and could, with profit to the health, be more often used in this country."
John and Leah Widtsoe

"Whey is such a good helper in your kitchen. It has a lot of minerals. One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion. It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young. It will keep your joints movable and ligaments elastic. When age wants to bend your back, take whey. . . . With stomach ailments, take one tablespoon whey three times daily, this will feed the stomach glands and they will work well again."
Hanna Kroeger

"Using cheese whey as a beverage in human nutrition, especially for therapeutic purposes, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, in 460 BC, prescribed whey for an assortment of human ailments. In the Middle Ages, whey was recommended by many doctors for varied diseases; and by the mid 19th century, whey cures reached a high point with the establishment of over 400 whey houses in Western Europe. As late as the 1940s, in spas in Central Europe, dyspepsia, uremia, arthritis, gout, liver diseases, anemia and even tuberculosis were treated with the ingestion of up to 1500 grams of whey per day."
V.H. Holsinger


  1. Thanks Nonie! I've used whey, but never made it myself. Silly me! Does cream content in the milk matter? I normally pour the cream off the top of my raw milk for other projects.

    1. I've never tried it, but you should! I think you will still get the whey from your milk.

    2. So you make whey from your brand new gallon of raw milk, or do you use it up a bit first? Or do you shake it every time you pour so that you maintain cream content? Sorry if I seem clueless. I just want to make sure I get the right product.

      I find that our milk gallon goes too sour about 2-3 cups before we finish it off, and so I'd love to make whey at that point, if it would work.

      Or maybe I should just buy an extra gallon for whey/cream cheese purposes.

  2. By all means, use those last few cups! Use any amount you like, whether fresh or more than a week old. The older it is the faster it will separate, which isn't a good or a bad thing. You can shake it if you want, but I'm pretty confident that it will separate no matter what you do. It just wants to happen! :)

    I can't remember because those pictures are pretty old, but I think I started with a half-gallon in the tutorial above, and that's about how much it yielded.

  3. I love using whey around the house. I remembered reading a snippet about it helping out with stomach ailments, and I can attest that it does. It is great for heartburn (I have heartburn issues when pregnant...), and is not at all unpleasant to drink by itself.

  4. P.s. That paper about whey and insulin is incredibly fascinating! Thank you for that link, it's something I think about a lot. I'm going to try that this pregnancy :)

  5. I grew up drinking raw milk and often milked the cows, sixteen of them and was taught to drink buttermilk (the real thing) when we churned butter in an old fashoned churn by my maternal grandma.
    WE were married in the temple by Elder John A Widtsoe and remember his wife's teachings. He was a PhD and a University President before he became an Apostle. The things they knew about health, diet, and the Word of Wisdom still hold true. Whey will see you through many health issues. I also love to eat cotage cheese. My dad used to have me separate the milk by running it through a separator and sell the cream to the dairy. He would have the hired man feed the skim milk to our 100 pigs. He knew it was good for them but dad followed modern eating patterns so we missed out on the whey bit. I knew Little Miss Muffet!

    1. This may be my favorite comment on our blog to date. Thanks for visiting, Grandpa!