Producing one pound of hard cheese creates nine pounds of whey – the liquid by-product left over when milk is curdled and strained – and while large-scale cheese makers often process it into animal feed or protein. of whey, with small cheese makers, much of it can go to waste.
“Our big thing is to keep [whey] into the food system,” says Emily Darchuk, owner and founder of Wheyward Spirit.
Darchuk founded Wheyward Spirit in 2017 and spent several years developing his distillation process. Liquid whey is 95% water, but contains enough sugar lactose to ferment into alcohol. Although this helps save water during distillation, it is a more complex process than using conventional ingredients.
Containing 40% alcohol and retailing from $54.95 for a 750ml bottle, its price is geared towards the high-end market – but Darchuk says consumers are curious to try the product and are eager to try the product. agreement with the zero waste concept.
“People are feeling the impact,” she says. “It’s that next movement in sustainable food.”
“A Drop in the Bucket”
“The challenge is that small cheese makers can’t afford to build these whey processing centers,” she told CNN Business.
These small cheesemakers represent less than 1% of the market, according to Goddik’s estimates, and their whey production is “a drop in the ocean” compared to larger outfits. But they have to pay to have the whey processed before it’s disposed of, which can be a significant additional expense, she says. Some supply the whey to local farmers to use as fertilizer, but if not managed well it can pollute water sources.
“It matters a lot to people on a small scale, and it certainly matters to the environment around them,” Goddik says. This is where fermentation and distillation can be a useful innovation. “It’s less capital intensive than trying to process and dry whey,” she explains.
Prove the market
Distillation could be especially useful for sour whey, the byproduct of Greek yogurt. For every pound of yogurt, three to four pounds of sour whey is produced, which, unlike soft cheese whey, cannot be used in protein powders. Goddik has researched sour whey fermentation and distillation and says it “worked really well.”
The whey beverage industry is still in its infancy, says Alcaine, adding “it takes time to prove the market.” But Wheyward Spirit’s partnership with Ben & Jerry’s shows that whey spirits can find their way into supermarket aisles, familiarizing shoppers with these unconventional products.
“I hope this inspires people to dig deeper and think differently about their food,” says Darchuk.