The Wonders of Whey, Cream Cheese and Cultured Cream
Fermented and cultured dairy products were prevalent in many traditional diets. Before industrialization Europeans consumed milk as yoghurt, cheese, clabber or curds, and whey. Whey is the main ingredient in lacto-fermentation and a great method to increase nutrition in your food.
There’s a myriad of beneficial uses for whey, but one of the most fascinating is as a home remedy. Using whey for therapeutic purposes can be traced back to the ancient Greeks:
Hippocrates, in 460 BC, prescribed whey for an assortment of human ailments. In the Middle Ages, whey was recommended by many doctors for varied diseases. By the mid 19th century, whey cures reached a high point with the establishment of over 400 whey houses in Western Europe. As late as the 1940’s, in spas in Central Europe, dyspepsia, uremia, arthritis, gout, liver diseases, anemia and even tuberculosis were treated with the ingestion of up to 1500 grams of whey per day. – V.H. Holsinger, Whey Beverages: A Review
After doing quite a bit of research on the subject, the best resource I found for recipes and information on making whey, and lacto-fermentation in general, is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I’ve made it a goal to always have whey in the house because, as my grandma used to say, ‘it’ll cure what ails you’. And best of all, whey lasts up to six months in the fridge. The bi-product of making whey is a wonderful cream cheese, much better than commercial. This lasts in the fridge about one month.
There are two ways I like to make whey. The ultimate is to use raw milk, which, because of our antiquated and questionable FDA regulations, is difficult to source. I drive nearly two hours round trip, to a farm I trust, to get the goods. When I can’t get raw milk, my back up method is to use piima, a Finnish culture (found here: www.moonwiseherbs.com) to make piima milk. From there you can use the piima milk, as you would raw milk, to make whey. Obviously this is an extra step. But once you obtain the culture, you can use a lightly pasteurized milk from the health food store, which is much easier to find. The piima culture will put the nutrients which pasteurization kills back into the milk. Note: do not use homogenized milk in making whey as it doesn’t turn out right. Homogenization suspends the fat so it doesn’t rise to the top. This makes the fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and oxidation and research indicates that homogenized fats contribute to heart disease.
Yogurt may also be used, but there is a heating step involved which I’ve shied away from mainly because of the mess factor and time restraints. Whole milk buttermilk works as well but again more steps with this version so I have yet to try. I assume it’s much like the piima method as you must add a culture and most likely you’ll have to special order.
Now you can use the whey to make a myriad of lacto-fermented vegetables, beverages and grain dishes. These properly prepared foods add beneficial flora to the gut, increase ease of digestion, nutrient content, and absorption of those nutrients in the body. I use whey in making our morning oatmeal by mixing water, whey and Scottish oats together and letting it sit overnight. Scottish oatmeal once took me 35 minutes to make in the morning and now takes under 5 minutes. Again, the oatmeal becomes much easier to digest and the nutrients better assimilated.
Homemade whey can also be taken as a daily tonic. This is a revival of an ancient method found throughout the British Isles and Europe. It’s full of vitamins, protein, minerals and enzymes. Combine half a cup of whey with half a cup water and the juice of one lemon–drink immediately. This is great for upset stomachs.
But first, let’s make the whey. For the piima method, I like the starter culture from Moonwise Herbs because it comes ready to use as a fermented cream. You can also find piima in a powder form but that would need to be made into a starter culture by mixing it with some good quality cream and letting it ferment. When I first received my Moonwise culture I went ahead and multiplied it simply by adding it to lightly pasteurized cream, letting it ferment and creating piima cream, see recipe below. This way you won’t have to keep ordering more culture, it’s really a one-time purchase. You can then keep it going indefinitely. A tablespoon of the piima cream can be used as your starter culture going forward, just add it to more cream and ferment, and it can be eaten as an even better replacement for sour cream or crème fraiche.
Makes 1 quart
1 quart fresh whole milk, non-homogenized (lightly pasteurized is best)
1 tablespoon starter culture/piima cream
Makes 2 cups
1 tablespoon starter culture
1 pint of good quality cream
Whey and Cream Cheese
Makes 5 cups whey and 2 cups cream cheese
2 quarts of raw milk or piima milk (see recipe below)
Try to use milk from a farm that pasture feeds it’s cows or goats. Do not use homogenized or ultra pasteurized milk, as the culture won’t grow without nutrients to feed on. This is a great way to restore nutrients to pasteurized milk, you can use this in all ways you would typically use milk.
Add milk to a clean glass container like a quart sized Mason Jar. Add starter and stir or shake well. Cover tightly and place somewhere where the temperature is a stable 72-75 degrees, usually above the stove or refrigerator, for 20 to 24 hrs.
High quality raw cream is best but pasteurized will do. Don’t bother to use ultra-pasteurized cream as there are not enough nutrients for the culture to live on. Place cream in a clean glass container like a pint size Mason jar. Add the starter, cover tightly and place in a spot where the temperature is a stable 72-75 degrees for 20 to 24 hrs. It will thicken, put in fridge where it will thicken further. This piima cream will keep refrigerator for several weeks. If it develops a yellowish or pinkish crust, it’s still good, just remove it.
Whey and Cream Cheese
If using piima milk let stand at room temp 1-2 days until the milk visibly separates into yellowish whey and white curds. If you can find raw milk, place the milk in a clean glass container and allow it to stand at room temperature 1-4 days until it separates.
Line a large strainer set over a bowl with a clean dishtowel. Pour in the separated milk, cover and let stand at room temperature for several hours. The whey will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the strainer. Once most of it is through, tie up the towel with the milk solids inside, being careful not to squeeze. Use kitchen twine or whatever you have handy to tie this little sack to a wooden spoon placed across the top of a container so that more whey can drip out. Usually takes an hour or two. When the bag stops dripping, the cheese is ready. Store whey in a Mason jar and cream cheese in a covered glass container. The cream cheese keeps for about 1 month in the refrigerator and the whey for about 6 months
See a pattern? Just mix, leave for a few days in a dark place with a consistent temperature–I use the cupboard above my stove–and voilà. Friends who’ve tried the piima cream at our house have reported no indigestion when normally they are nearly lactose intolerant. Brave souls they are for even trying! But that is some pretty sound proof to me.
Get a copy of the real food bible Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon for more info and whey recipes. Her lacto-fermented ketchup and sauerkraut are my favorites. And thanks, Sally!
Do you make whey? What do you use it for?
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