Are You Gonna Go My Whey?

Why chefs are embracing whey, and how you can, too

Food Features
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Are You Gonna Go My Whey?

Outta my whey. I’m jumping on the whey bandwagon.

That’s right. Go ahead, say it: Many of you out there consider me um, unusual, or at least, not the good Southern eater I was raised to be (can you please pass the pork rinds?). I like herbal amaros, sage tea, kombucha, and now I’m adding this glowly green milk product to my smoothies, the same liquidy goodness that Miss Muffett reportedly ate on her famous tuffet. I’m already a walking episode of Portlandia; I get it.

But why don’t you? Whey is a legitimate food product. It tastes of the process that produces it (yogurt or cheese). And lots of people are beginning to embrace this beverage that has been with us for thousands of years.

“Whey is a ‘by-product’ of making yogurt. It’s not a waste product,” explains Homa Dashtaki of yogurt maker The White Moustache in Brooklyn. “It is a food in its own right. It is full of probiotics and calcium.”

Dashtaki, who grew up consuming the beverage in her Persian household, was literally born to love the stuff. It was often in the fridge, and she and her family drank it like a natural Gatorade, or just for an afternoon sip. So when she started making her famous yogurt, she was shocked to learn that most companies threw it away because it was cheaper than finding a market. She decided to go another way (whey) and develop the market herself, starting with creating a high-quality beverage.

“I bottled this neon yellow colored liquid in 1-liter bottles labeled ‘whey’ because it’s delicious! If you love yogurt, then this tastes similar, and I honestly didn’t realize why no one was buying it,” she says. “But it was kind of intimidating. Most people didn’t seem to be familiar with it.”

One of those people used to be bartender extraordinaire RH Weaver of The Bar at Husk in Charleston, S.C. He was tasked by the kitchen staff to find a use for it, since the restaurant is committed to a “nose-to-tail” philosophy and also a strong bottom-line efficiency.

“It was the result of the kitchen’s ricotta making, and it had this warm, cheesy quality to it that I balanced out with citrus and vanilla. I’d never used it before, never tasted it, but I started experimenting with the stuff, and I noticed how it provided milk qualities to a cocktail but also a brightness. Then I got really interested and started making the stuff myself using different types of citrus.”

Weaver Family Whey is the result of that experimentation, and Weaver began to love it not only for its mixology contributions, but also as a health beverage, and good-tasting one at that. “When I got into it, I realized that it was so much more, a health serum really, that had been—is still used—by many people in the world,” he says. “It’s a perfect drink by itself, but there are other ways to use it.”

Chef Tucker Yoder, based in the Charlottesville, Virginia area, has been using whey for years, employing it to tenderize meat, add flavor to grains, and more. He has an impressive resume, including a long stint at The Clifton Inn, but he is currently a private and pop-up dinner chef for some illustrious folks in the area (whom he can’t disclose).

“I’ve been using whey a lot recently as a good base for sauces. It adds a certain glossiness and richness, so at the end, I’m not having to add as much butter,” he explains.

Yoder was the one who taught me to make ricotta, and thus whey, and so for him (and now for me), it’s very simple: add it into your life. It’s nutritious, delicious, and easy. And it’s not weird. It’s us who have been weird not to use it.

Ways to Add Whey To Your Diet

“Cold preps in order to keep the raw probiotics are best,” notes Homa Dashtaki. Yogurt whey tastes tangy, bright, clean, and very citrus forward, much like yogurt.
?Drink it straight!
?Add to smoothies—it will keep you fuller longer because of the protein and add a silkiness to the beverage.
?Gazpacho and other cold soups—cucumber gazpacho is especially beautiful with the citrusy tang of yogurt whey.

Cheese Whey

Tucker Yoder suggest using cheese why to “replace water in many of your savory preps.” Cheese whey is tangy, rich, warm, and, yes, cheesy, with a heavy dose of umami.
?Add to sauces, gravies, and hearty soups.
?Replace the water in which you’re boiling pasta or grains—it will add a richness and an extra level of flavor.
?Add it to homemade bread dough—consult books such as Nourishing Traditions for specifics.

For Both Types

?Meat marinade—add flavor and tenderize at the same time!
?Experiment with how much to add based on your own palate—you can go from a splash or a dollop to replacing all the liquid, if that is your preference.

Stephanie Burt is a freelance writer based in Charleston, S.C., who can’t stop, won’t stop with the whey (or for that matter, song lyric) puns. You can find her at @beehivesteph.

Photo by Cecilia CC BY