REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Whey (and “Cream Cheese”)

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whey and yogurt cheeseWhey is incredibly useful when making lacto-fermented drinks (such as beet kvass), condiments (such as mayonnaise), and vegetables (such as these dilly carrot sticks) at home.

I have mentioned in several recipes that I use whey.  Have you ever bought yogurt from the store and there is a little liquid on the top before you stir it all together?  That’s whey.  However, it’s only a teaspoon or so if you pour it off.  You will need more than that to make ketchup on a regular basis!

So if you want to make whey, then it’s best to use my method below.  Plus, when you make whey my way you get “cream cheese”*, too.  (That’s a bonus for those of you taking the Whole Grains E-course and you’re learning to make your own bagels.  That’s a match made in heaven.)

(*It’s really strained yogurt cheese or Greek yogurt, but I find it works wonderfully as cream cheese.  My readers are right, it’s not really cream cheese.  I just think cream cheese sounds better than yogurt cheese.  And Sally Fallon started it!!  She calls this cream cheese in Nourishing Traditions.  I had to come update this, because now my curiosity is piqued and I have to make real cream cheese!)

You can make whey from curdled raw milk, homemade yogurt, or homemade milk kefir.  And can have a little rant about why raw milk is better than pasteurized?  Thank you.  Raw milk curdles and changes into something else that you can eat.  Commercial pasteurized milk spoils and you throw it away.  This is a good enough reason for me to use raw milk!

You can let raw milk separate on the counter at room temperature for a few days, and then strain through a cheesecloth until the curds are all separated from the whey.  Or you can use yogurt or milk kefir, which I find much easier, personally.  They whey drains out of yogurt and kefir much more cleanly than the raw milk version.  Plus, the leftover creamy curds from yogurt are cream cheese.  Delicious!

Whey and cream cheese, separated

Why go through the trouble of making whey?  Whey naturally inoculates foods from bad bacteria so that good bacteria can flourish, and has been used that way to make traditional foods for thousands of years.  And whey keeps for about 6 months in the fridge, so you don’t need to worry about it spoiling.

There are side benefits to whey.  Did you know that whey can even be helpful for those with blood sugar problems?  According to Wikipedia:

I say this all the time, but this is why I love real food.  You can trust it.  It’s tried and true by your ancestors.  And beneficial side effects tend to crop up and make your healthier.  Plus it just tastes better.  You can’t really go wrong with real food.

Equipment Needed:

  • mixing bowls
  • large strainer
  • cheesecloth
  • quart mason jars and storage lids
  • wooden spoon

Whey and Cream Cheese from Yogurt or Kefir

1/2 gallon of yogurt (buy yogurt starters here, see how to make yogurt here)

  1. In a large bowl, place a large strainer and line it with a piece of cheesecloth.  Gently pour the yogurt into the lined strainer and cover with a towel to keep dust and bugs out.  Let drip overnight at room temperature on the counter.
  2. The next morning, uncover, and lift cheesecloth out of the strainer, filled with cream cheese.  Put the cream cheese in a bowl, peel off the cheesecloth and discard, and set aside.  Use as is, or make into a sweet or savory spread by following the recipe below.
  3. Remove strainer from the original mixing bowl.  Below will be all your whey!
    Pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator.  Use to make lacto-fermented drinks and foods.  Whey will keep for 6 months in the refrigerator.

Sweet or Savory Cream Cheese Spread

1 quart (4 cups) cream cheese

  1. For a sweet cream cheese spread:  Mix in 1 cup fruit jam, OR 1/2 cup honey, OR 1/2 cup maple syrup.  I love to add honey and cinnamon for a cinnamon sugar spread.  Serve with bagels, toast, or use as a fruit dip.
  2. For a savory cream cheese spread:  Mix in 1/4 cup finely chopped chives, 1 tablespoon onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste for a basic savory flavor.  OR mix in 1/4 cup finely chopped basil, 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste for an Italian savory flavor.  Serve with crackers, toasts, savory bagels, or use as a vegetable or chip dip.
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