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We're Seeing It Everywhere: Whey

May 7, 2014

Photo credit: Eising Studio/StockFood

It’s impossible to say whether Little Miss Muffet, who famously parked her tush on a tuffet and stuffed herself with curds and whey, was a cheese-making expert. 

But we’re thinking not. And if the spider who plopped down beside her had asked, “What the heck is whey, anyway?” she might have fled the scene even faster.

Whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process, is the off-white, acidic liquid that remains after the curds (the part you typically eat) are scooped out. The whey is usually discarded, but several chefs and mixologists around the country, fed up with all that waste, have taken to using it in unexpected ways.

Opie Crooks, the chef de cuisine at Shoo-Fly Diner in Baltimore, Maryland, is among them. When the restaurant recently began making its own quark, a young cow’s milk cheese similar to homemade cream cheese, Crooks suddenly found himself with gallons upon gallons of whey and nothing to do with it all.

Whey-braised short ribs at Shoo-Fly Diner. Photo credit: chefopie/ Instagram

"We were producing so much of it, and it’s sad to see something like that go to waste," he told us. "It’s acidic and sweet. It’s a milk-based product. So we started messing around with it." 

Shoo-Fly’s most successful whey-inspired invention is a whey-braised short rib dish. The acidity in the whey acts as a tenderizer, Crooks explained, lending the meat a more velvety texture than had it been simmered in beef stock. The sauce, a cooked-down combination of whey, short rib jus, and beef stock, is creamier, too.

An hour from Shoo-Fly, at Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C., head bartender Duane Sylvestre is also dabbling in whey. Last season, Sylvestre featured a take on the greyhound cocktail he dubbed the “White Dog,” a potent mix of grapefruit juice, vodka, and filtered whey. “The whey smooths out the acids in the White Dog, and adds a richer texture to the cocktail,” he told Eater last year.

The “Whey of the Gun” cocktail at Whey Bar. Photo credit: marian4/Instagram

But perhaps the most fervid whey-heads are in Portland, Oregon, home to Ox Restaurant's aptly named Whey Bar. Currently listed on the menu is “Whey of the Gun,” a boozy number made with rum, bourbon, lime, and (of course) whey that is equal parts tart, boozy, and silky. 

"I wanted to make cocktails that are non-pretentious but good enough to stand out in a city that takes cocktails very seriously," Whey Bar’s former bar manager Jamal Hassan told Serious Eats. Mission accomplished.

If you’re able to get your hands on some whey—simply try making your own cheese, and save the excess liquid—we suggest using these examples as inspiration. Miss Muffet would totally approve.