Cheesemaking leaves you with a little bit of cheese and an incredible amount of whey. What can we do with the leftover whey?
I asked my Old Order Mennonite friend, when we were talking about cheesemaking, “What do you do with the whey?”
She looked surprised and said, “I toss it down the drain. Oh, I’ve heard of people who fed it to the animals, but no one I know does that anymore. After you make butter and then cheese, is it anything more than sour water?”
Yes, yes, yes, it really is more than just acidic water!
And yet, I can easily see why someone would think it not much more than that. By the time a firm cheese is made, and then ricotta, the whey has very little of anything left in it. However, I have discovered that a few things can be done with the whey which does, in fact, contain nutrition and health benefits.
Cheesemaking is a really rewarding “hobby”, and there’s nothing quite like eating pizza made with your own freshly made mozzarella. I have recipes in A Cabin Full of Food for all the cheeses that I’ve made at home.
Definitely make ricotta after making your hard cheese, by the way. That decreases the volume of the whey a lot, and gives you some spreadable cheese. And ricotta is so delicious and useful.
Or serac, which is a pressed ricotta.
Make bread. Just use the whey the same way that you would use water or milk. It works well as the liquid in sourdough starter.
You could pickle – or more accurately – ferment boiled eggs in whey. I like fermented foods a lot, but the idea of fermenting boiled eggs weirds me out just a wee bit.
Almost any baking recipe calling for buttermilk, and many calling for sour milk, can use whey – I use it in pancakes, cornbread, biscuits, muffins, and dumplings.
Soak grains like oatmeal before cooking. Whey is fine to sit on the countertop overnight with the your oats, and they’ll only take a moment to heat up in the morning. As a note, that doesn’t mean you can leave it out indefinitely. Whey will develop mold if left too long.
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It is fabulous for dogs, giving them shiny coats.
Add spices and cook rice or barley. This is one of the simplest ways to use up whey. You’ll get all of those nutrients in a side dish you were going to make anyway.
Add a little honey and slowly, slowly simmer it down to make a brown cheese called gejtost. Yes, that’s literally all you need to know to make it. Like many soft cheeses, this can range from creamy (use like a dessert sauce) to soft but sliceable. In Norway, it’s common for breakfast. It’s an acquired taste, though. I made a batch and it has a very intense flavour.
Make like Cleopatra and pour a few cups of it in the bathtub for a less expensive milk bath. It is slightly anti-microbial and is supposed to help with acne.
Marinade meats – whey is acidic and will tenderize and flavour red meat!
Soak chicken breasts in whey overnight (in the fridge), bread and then fry.
Mix with fruit juice and carbonated water for a healthy drink. Again, though, an acquired taste.
If you have miso, use whey as the base for a miso soup.
Use as part of the liquid in making gravy or a cream soup or white sauce.
If you can find a recipe, make blaand – a Scottish fermented whey drink. It’s hard to find a recipe, but it’s pretty much just pouring whey and sugar into an oak cask and letting it get bubbly. If you’re making cheese regularly, you’ll have a lot of whey, so you can experiment with amounts. Add new whey regularly or it will go sour, and drink it when it’s bubbly. Should I say again this is probably going to taste odd to North American palates? From what I’ve read, fermenting without the oak makes it taste more like liquid Parmesan, so toss a few oak chips in your finished blaand and let it set a few days before drinking.
Make biscuits (although I wouldn’t add the powdered milk)
Make fermented orange juice, rather like Orangina, by mixing 2 1/2 cups fresh orange juice or a combo of orange, lemon, grapefruit juice, 1 cup spring water and 2 tablespoons whey. Let it ferment on your countertop up to 48 hours and drink. (FRESH citrus juice, not icky pasteurized stuff, SPRING water without chlorine or other chemicals, and WHEY. That’s it.)
I haven’t tried this (but then, I haven’t made blaand, either), but it seems that you can use whey instead of vinegar/lemon juice in homemade mayo. It’ll taste different than your standard mayo recipe.
After shampooing, massage hair and scalp with whey and then rinse with cool water.
Caramelize it. Seriously.
Make whey pickles – although I admit to having absolutely awful luck with these. Other people swear by adding fresh whey to their pickles, but I’ve always found that my fermented pickles do better in salt brine.
Greek delis keep feta cheese fresh by submerging it in whey (with salt, I wonder?). I’ve done the same with homemade mozzarella.
Mix half and half with iced tea for an unusual summertime drink.
If you have pigs, whey is wonderful for fattening them up and is traditionally what farmers do with most of their unwanted whey.
Chickens like whey, too, as an occasional treat instead of water. Chickens can not process lactose, so should not have too much, but the protein is very good for them.
I have read that whey will keep in the fridge for six months, but my experience is that it won’t. Unlike whole raw milk, whey will actually go moldy! I don’t know why it molds more quickly than whole milk.
So there you go – if you’ve making cheese, you now have a whole bunch of different ways to use up your leftover whey!