Whey is a by-product of cheese making, formed when the cheese curds separate from the milk or cream. After the curds are formed, the remaining liquid is called whey; it is typically thin and watery and will sometimes have a bluish tinge, but this depends on the quality and type of milk used. Whey can be made from any type of milk — cow's milk is the most popular in the United States. Goat's milk is commonly used in the Middle East, and in some desert areas camel's milk is used. The by-product can also be formed during the making of yogurt; it is the thin liquid that forms on top of the yogurt when it has settled.
Most commonly known as an excellent source of protein, whey also offers high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and lactose. It is the base of many protein drinks for athletes or others wishing to build or repair muscle tissues; when offered as a protein drink, it is usually found in powder form. The by-product is also an important supplement for those who have limited mobility in the limbs, as it contributes to the prevention of atrophy, or wasting away, of muscular cells. When used in pet foods as a source of protein and fats, it helps contribute to a healthy coat and proper muscle development for animals.
When formed during yogurt making, whey can be drained off and added to shakes, smoothies, or other liquid drinks for added protein. The by-product is often used in the making of ricotta cheese where it is heated, and vinegar or another acidic liquid is added. The addition of the acid causes the fats in the whey to solidify into the curds that create the cheese, forming a cooking staple for many dishes.
Whey can be an important addition to anyone's diet. Those who have difficulty finding the time to eat right or who have other dietary concerns, such as protein needs in a vegetarian diet, will find it to be an excellent supplement. Most people incorporate the powder form into their diet because it is easy to cook with and offers a quicker solution over making it from scratch.
How it's Made
There are numerous methods to making this cheese by-product, and the methods and materials used do vary. It is possible to find "recipes" on the Internet that explain the process in great detail. Most methods include heating water, organic milk, and vinegar in a pot over very low heat until it forms curds. Once it is done curdling, the mixture should be refrigerated and left to cool. The leftover liquid is whey and can be refrigerated for several weeks to be used at a later date.
Most people are familiar with the old nursery rhyme, "Little Miss Muffet," who was eating her curds and whey. The type of cheese mentioned in this nursery rhyme would be similar to cottage cheese in appearance and made by allowing milk to sour and naturally separate into curds and whey. While the idea of making cheese from soured milk may not sound appetizing to most people, it is a method used around the world in many different cultures; for example, many Indian dishes incorporate this method. It is also commonly used as a condiment for toasted bread.