During the cheese making process, the tiny curds of cheese will float in a white (or sometimes bluish), thin liquid called whey.
Whey can be formed from cow’s milk, goat’s milk and even camel’s milk. It is also a byproduct when making yogurt. While some may think that whey is merely waste, it actually has a lot of uses. Whey is rich in protein and is often added to smoothies and shakes to increase the nutritional value. In fact, many sports drinks, especially those that are labeled protein-rich, are made from whey. Athletes believe that these will help enhance and repair muscles. Doctors and physical therapists may also prescribe these whey-enriched drinks for those who have gone through physical injury and need to develop their muscle cells.
Interestingly, whey is also used to make pet foods. The high protein content, plus the vitamins and minerals, help develop an animal’s coat to make it thicker and more shiny.
Whey can also be processed to make certain kinds of cheeses. For example, it is sometimes heated and then mixed with vinegar or some type of acidic liquid. This leads the fats to congeal. Ricotta is one cheese that is made from whey.
Whey has also made its, er, way (pun not intended) into cultural references. Every child in the English-speaking world is familiar with the Mother Goose rhyme of “Little Miss Muffet” who (upon sitting on a tuffet) ate her curds and whey. This may not seem like a delicious snack for a young child, but actually Miss Muffet’s meal is quite common in some countries. There, milk is left to become sour for the whey to separate.