The whey forward

Baby get, Sty James & whey dish at Silo

In the ‘waste not, want not’ spirit, today’s environmentally aware chefs are rediscovering whey, a byproduct of the cheesemaking process

Time was, whey – the liquid left when milk curds are drained to make cheese – would go straight into food processing or animal feed. We’ve found some far more delicious uses.

Delica pumpkin and whey are combined in a broth at James Lowe’s Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s.

At near self-sufficient Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall, whey is put to multiple uses including in the ‘Miss Muffet-esque’ curd dumplings with whey.

Whey crops up in desserts too: try whey caramel with fermented apple sorbet at Robin Gill’s The Dairy in Clapham or carbonated yoghurt whey at Scott Smith’s Fhior in Edinburgh.

At ever-pioneering Stockport restaurant Where The Light Gets In, Sam Buckley reduces 40 litres of whey down to just one for a treacle-like consistency that’s perfect in a tiny petit four tart.

Decoder: What is whey?

I know this one! Along with curds, it’s what Little Miss Muffet tucked into
before her arachnid-related misfortune. If memory serves, it’s the bit of milk that gets thrown away when you make cheese.
Well, yes. But also, rather importantly for today’s discussion, no.

You mean it’s not part of milk?
No, I mean it doesn’t get thrown away. Farmers have long appreciated its value – traditionally, it’s been fed to pigs, who can’t get enough of the stuff. But these days there’s a whole range of uses for it – so much so that it’s been named on a list of fashionable foods for 2020.

You don’t say. So let’s rewind a moment. What is it exactly?
Whey is milk with the fats and solids extracted. In cheesemaking, the fats and
solids become the cheese; the whey, as you rightly say, is what’s left over. But it’s not waste because it’s packed full of protein. Milk contains two types of protein – casein and whey. Casein ends up in the cheese while whey…

Ends up in the whey?

However did you guess? That’s what makes it such good animal feed and why it’s widely used by companies making protein-enriched foods such as shakes and bars. But it is the inventive methods that a new generation of nose-to-tail foodies are harnessing to extract its richness and lactic acidity that have
caught the trend-spotters’ attention. 

Such as?
Well, there’s Mark Jarvis, who serves a starter of whey with peas, black garlic
emulsion and salted egg yolk at his London restaurant Anglo. Then there’s Douglas McMaster of zero-waste restaurant Silo, where it features in dishes such as blue potatoes with barbecued sea kale and caramelised whey. And there’s Tommy Banks of the Black Swan at Oldstead, near York, who uses it to make ricotta as well as a Scandinavian-style brown cheese, which, he says, tastes ‘like a salty, savoury version of Caramac’.

So can I cook with whey at home?

At the moment, it’s pretty hard to come by. The best way to source it is to make your own cheese or befriend a dairy farmer. But if its popularity as a restaurant ingredient continues to grow, who’s to say that it won’t be coming to a shelf near you before our new decade is too much older?

Published January 2020
Updated March 2020