At the end of the recipe it read “repurpose the whey”. What exactly do those instructions mean? Time and time again I ran across the phrase when researching methods of home cheese making. But, more on whey later…
Specifically, I was looking for a good (easy) method of producing my own ricotta. Too many of the commercial ricottas seem tasteless to me and their textures owe a lot to added gelatines. I wanted something smooth, something that tasted of fresh dairy.
What I produced is not true ricotta. Ricotta is technically a “whey cheese” made from boiling the leftover liquid (the whey) after the cheese curds are removed. And, because I used a portion of high-fat cream along with the whole milk, I got something more like a cross between ricotta and creamy mascarpone.
This is incredibly easy to do – all you need is a few simple ingredients and an inventive way of suspending the bag of curds over a bowl to collect the whey.
- 6-1/2 cups organic whole milk
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 lemons
In a large non-reactive pot, mix the milk, cream, and salt. Heat the mixture on medium, stirring frequently, until it reaches the point just before boiling – about 15 minutes. It will shimmer just below the surface. (Warning – do not attempt to write your blog post while the milk/cream is heating as it may inadvertently boil over!) Remove from heat.
Juice the lemons and add to the milky mixture. Stir gently and let it stand for about five minutes.
The acid in the lemon juice will cause the warm mixture to curdle – separating the soft curds and the liquid, the slightly cloudy yellowish whey.
Line a colander with a clean, cotton cloth and place the colander inside a larger bowl. I prefer using a heavier cloth than cheesecloth (for which you will need several layers). You could purchase a specialist butter muslin or I have even seen large men’s cotton handkerchiefs recommended (obviously new, not used!). I’ve recycled an old 100% cotton pillow slip for the purpose. Pour the curds and whey into lined colander. Allow most of the whey to drain into the bowl.
Gather up the ends of your cloth and tightly tie them with a piece of string. Hang the bag of dripping curds and suspend it over the bowl of whey. I suspend it from my grandfather’s old wooden clamp attached to the kitchen table.
Let it drain for at least an hour, if not longer for a firmer curd (timing will depend on the porosity of your cloth). Remove the cheese from the bag. Use immediately. Or, it can be refrigerated for a few days or even frozen for future use.
Oh yes, final instructions: repurpose the whey.
Notes on Repurposing Whey:
In my internet searches, I found a number of novel ways to use the whey (instead of pouring it down the drain). The type of whey produced here is acid or sour whey, which is what you get when using lemon or vinegar to curdle. Sweet whey is produced when rennet cheeses are made. The top three uses (in my opinion) for sour whey are the following:
- Use it in place of water in baking. It is particularly good in baking bread and can even be used to pre-soak groats or other grains added to bread. It also enhances the sourness in sourdough breads. This is my favorite method of repurposing the whey.
- Use it as a plant food for acid loving plants. I use it on my blueberry bushes during the growing season.
- Use it to soak dried beans. It is said to reduce the flatulent properties of the beans. I have not yet tried this, so cannot tell you if it is true!
No excuses: repurpose the whey!
Postscript: Have any of you seen the news about the oldest (almost 4,000 years old) piece of cheese found with a mummy in the Taklamakan Desert of northwest China? Read all about it on The History Blog.