You may have noticed that there’s a lot of mention here, in these parts, about whey.
No, it’s not the protein powder. It’s the stuff of Little Miss Muffet.
You remember her — she sat on her tuffet (questionable action), eating her curds and whey.
Now, I’ll stop here, and admit that the first time I made mozzarella cheese (no eye-rolling — it’s remarkably easy, I’ll tell you all about it sometime), and realized that I was actually stirring a pot of of two ingredients that completely flummoxed me during my formative Mother Goose years, I was delighted. But that delight quickly fell way to further confusion, because the whole point of cheese-making is that you remove the curds from the whey — you don’t eat a bowl of them together.
Now that I’m thinking about this again, I’ll probably lose sleep tonight.
See? There’s no end to this.
So what is this mysterious liquid of Miss Muffet and her curious arachnid? Whey is the liquid that separates from milk solids when making yogurt or cheese or other cultured dairy products. When making cheese, this separation occurs in dramatic fashion when acid is added to the milk. With yogurt, it requires a little more time, and often requires straining (though sometimes yogurt separates on its own in the container — that liquid in your yogurt cup? yep — it’s whey). It’s full of enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and lactic acid — and is good for digestion and nutrient absorption.
Whey is used in all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Many folks put it in their cultured vegetables — I use mine in bread-making, overnight-soaking of grains and legumes, fermentation of fruits and homemade mayonnaise, and lately in making beet kvass (a fermented beet beverage, my new favorite). I always have whey in my refrigerator — which is pretty easy to do, since it lasts in a jar for about 6 weeks.
One of the greatest things about whey-making day is the byproduct of this method: yogurt cheese. It’s the consistency of cream cheese, though more tart — and with a little honey, vanilla, and cinnamon added, it makes a fantastic probiotic dip for fruits and crackers. I have at least two children who gobble this stuff up — and the third gets mocked by the whole family when she doesn’t. It’s fun times.
Oh, and greek yogurt? It’s nothing more than strained yogurt — just like what we do here in this process (you’d just stop after the first straining step, when the yogurt is very thick but still creamy).
So get off your tuffet and give this a try. Helpful hints: my favorite cheesecloth is this brand — and I’ve been using and washing the same cut-off 18″ square now for about 6 months, so it’s worth the tiny extra investment. Also, if you’re not into sweet dips, then by all means just use some chopped garlic, fresh herbs, and sea salt for a lovely savory dip. I’m sure Miss Muffet and her voyeuristic spider would approve.
- 1 quart whole-milk plain yogurt (not Greek)
- fine cheesecloth or a thin, clean tea towel
- colander or strainer large enough to hold the yogurt
- quart-sized canning jar
- Line the strainer with the cheesecloth or towel, and nest inside a another bowl (make sure there is space underneath the strainer so it doesn't sit in accumulating liquid).
- Pour the yogurt into the strainer. Cover with a plate, and let sit on the counter for 6-8 hours (or overnight). The yogurt will become very thick as the whey drains to the bowl below.
- Gather the corners of the cheesecloth, remove from the strainer, and tie the cloth around a spoon, lowering the yogurt solids into a quart-sized mason jar (again, make sure enough space is between the yogurt and the bottom of the jar so that the cheesecloth doesn't sit in dripping liquid) -- see photo. Place in the refrigerator to drain for another 8 hours.
- Pour whey from the bowl into a clean jar, close tightly, and store in the refrigerator (you will add any additional liquid from the second straining once its done). The whey will keep for 6 weeks in the refrigerator.
- Remove yogurt cheese from the cheesecloth, and use as a cream-cheese substitute, or in making a yogurt dip (recipe follows). Wash cheesecloth in warm soapy water and hang to dry for reuse.
- yogurt cheese strained from whey-making (recipe above) -- about 1 cup
- 2 (or more) Tbsp honey
- pinch salt
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Stir well until combined and creamy. If desired, sprinkle with additional cinnamon prior to serving.