Don’t Throw it A-Whey


Those of you familiar with the cheese making process know what happens to milk when we make cheese. Broadly speaking, when me make cheese, we call upon the activity of bacteria (to chew up lactose and turn it into lactic acid, thereby lowering the pH of the milk), acid (direct addition of substances such as citric acid, tartaric acid, or vinegar (acetic acid)), rennet, or some combination of all of the above to cause the milk protein (casein) to unite with the milk minerals (mostly calcium) to create calcium caseinate (curd). The curd is then separated from the liquid portion (whey) and then is compressed and aged to create cheese, which we then serve to our family and friends, or eat it all ourselves. But we’ve forgotten about that liquid portion of the milk – the whey. What are we supposed to do with that?

Many years ago, the answer would have been “dump it down the sewer.” But then in the 1970’s the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency came along and said, “Bzzzzzzzzzp! Wrong answer! This caused much consternation and head-scratching among commercial cheesemakers as they attempted to figure out what they were going to do with this stuff if they couldn’t toss it. Then someone discovered that if you spun the whey down in a centrifuge and concentrated it down to 85% protein, you now had a substance that they named whey protein concentrate. If you further concentrated it down to 90% protein, you had a substance that they named whey protein isolate. Food processors then discovered that you could use these substances to make a diverse array of products such as sports beverage mixes, baby food formulas, baked goods, salad dressings, emulsifiers, etc. Food processors liked using these substances because whey lacks the strong beany taste of soy protein. As a result, these food processors didn’t have to spend money on flavorings to cover the beany soy taste. Whey is also a good source of the branched-chain sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, as well as many of the other essential amino acids.

You, the home cheesemaker, however, probably do not possess a centrifuge. But there are still many things you can do with that whey.

Drink it – pour yourself a glass of whey and mix in a powdered beverage mix (lemonade, Kool-Aid, Tang, etc.) You now have a flavored beverage that is healthier for you than if you used just plain water. Remember that the whey still contains protein and minerals. Just be careful if you use Kool-Aid; you don’t want that smiley pitcher guy to come crashing through your walls. (Note: those of you under forty may have to ask your parents or grandparents to explain that one to you.)

Bake with it –the 30-Minute Mozzarella Kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company comes with a recipe for Italian Feather Bread. One of the ingredients used in the bread is whey. The bread is very tasty, by the way; I recommend making it.

Feed it to your plants – remember that whey contains protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids contain amine (NH2) and carboxyl (COOH) groups. Plants will use the amine portion of the whey as a source of nitrogen. One hundred gallons of whey contains approximately 1.22 pounds nitrogen (N), 0.40 pounds phosphorus (P), 1.46 pounds potassium (K), 0.29 pounds calcium (Ca), 0.05 pounds magnesium (Mg), 0.42 pounds sodium (Na) and 1.00 pound chlorine (Cl). In addition, certain plants such as azalea, rhododendron, and blueberry require more acidic soils (pH 4.5-5.5). They will not grow if soil pH is higher than this. Whey is an excellent substance for lowering the pH of alkaline soils, with the whey from making cottage cheese being most effective.

So use it, don’t lose it. It’s the whey to go!

Beware This Deadly Trio

Skull and Crossbones

Ah, summertime. A time to picnic in the park and hike through the woods. We want to get out in nature and enjoy the beauty around us. And we especially want to do it safely. A great part of doing it safely involves protecting ourselves from mosquito and tick bites, bee, wasp, and hornet stings, and encounters with noxious plants. It’s this latter topic that I want to deal with here. We’re all familiar with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. We all know to avoid coming in contact with these. However, there are three plants that are highly noxious and will cause some very serious harm if touched. I’m referring to giant hogweed, wild parsnip, and cow parsnip. All three contain furanocoumarin toxins. These are phototropic toxins which, when exposed to sunlight can cause severe burning that can last for months and leave permanent scars.

Here is some more information about this noxious trio.

Cow Parsnip

Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) – Cow parsnip is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae). It is native to the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. Like carrots, cow parsnip is a biennial – it produces root and leaves the first year, then flowers and seeds the second. The flowers attract a wide variety of insects, and are an important source of pollen and nectar for many of our native bees and other pollinators. In its first year, the young stems and leafstalks can be eaten and were actually used as a food source by indigenous North American tribes. However, in its second year, the stems and leaves produce those phototropic toxins which can do serious damage to your skin. (Source: Anchorage Daily News ( and Illinois Wildflowers (

Wild Parsnip

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) – Wild parsnip is a fairly common plant (considered by some to be an invasive) that can be found growing in city parking lots, along roadsides and river banks, and near railroad tracks. It has also been found invading prairies, oak savannas, and fens, and has even been found growing in soccer and baseball fields. It can grow 2 to 5 feet-tall and looks similar to Queen Anne’s lace but with yellow instead of white flowers. Like, cow parsnip, it is a biennial and the leaves and stems produce the phototropic, skin destroying toxin. (Source: Chicago Tribune ( and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed (Pastinaca sativa) – Giant hogweed is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae) which can grow 14 feet in height or taller. Its hollow, ridged stems grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide. Its white flower heads can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. Native to the Caucasus Mountain region of Russia, it was introduced into Europe and the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century and the US in the twentieth. In some states such as New York, it is a federally listed noxious weed and it is illegal to possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, introduce or propagate. (Source: Chicago Tribune ( and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (

Should you have the misfortune to come in contact with any of these bad boys, wash the affected area with soap and water and keep it away from sunlight for 48 hours. If you think that you’ve been burned by any of these plants, then run, do not walk, to your doctor or the nearest emergency room or treatment center and have it attended to pronto!