Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Perhaps you have heard of this little childhood rhyme, and perhaps, like me at the ripe old age of three, you had no idea what sort of food “curds and whey” was. I recall asking one of my grammar-school teachers. Her reply? Cottage cheese… And ever since then I’ve felt compelled to check the air around me for dangling arachnids as I devour a bowlful. But, there is evidence that the dish referred to in the rhyme is the English sweet known as junket. Either way, milk is curdled. Curds, and whey…
Perhaps, like me, you are well-aware that there are many other curdled things made by adding a souring agent to milk or cream. Yoghurt, sour cream, kefir (the production of all three of these demand that edible bacterial cultures be introduced which devour lactose, producing an acid which forms curds) and all cheeses (made by compressing these curds or those formed by introducing an acid directly) would be impossible without this initial phase of “curds and whey”.
Perhaps, like me, you have decided to be a bit more self-reliant by producing some of these food-stuffs at home and wonder, when all is said and done, what to do with all of the leftover whey. Well, for one, it can be added to the sauce or gravy of many dishes. In the Punju dish mattar panir, for instance, it is often added to the tomato-laden gravy where it adds a subtle, sweet-sour sparkle. It can be used to thin saucy legume dishes during the final simmering (adding any acidic substance at an earlier stage of cooking inhibits the softening of legumes); certainly it can be added in small amounts to many soups. It is, after all, protein-rich, and often used as a nutrition-boosting additive in many pre-packaged foods.
But perhaps, like me, after a session of panir-making or yoghurt-straining, you have no immediate way of using all of this whey that sits there so pale, so golden, so lovely in a container on your counter-top. You hate to discard it, so you freeze it, thinking that you will find ways of using it in the near future. And then, over time, you realize that you have so many containers that are taking up so much room… but it’s too much of a shame to just let them all thaw to pour down the drain. Sacrilege, you think. You arrive at a cerebral sticking-point.
And then, maybe, a thought strikes you. You could save space, save energy and dehydrate it…
And, truly, it isn’t very difficult to turn all of that whey into a concentrated powder. Whey powder, to use at whim without thawing, to keep in a handy place in the kitchen, to add to gravies, soups, stews, sweet drinks, almost anything. And here is how to do that:
1)Take your saved quantity of whey and bring it to a boil, lower the heat a bit to maintain a gentle boil, and stir it occasionally as it reduces.
2)It will eventually become a thick, caramel-coloured goop, so be sure to stir more frequently as it nears this stage. I threw in a quick handful of salt while it was reducing; perhaps this is unnecessary, but by doing this I felt reassured that the resultant powder would be spoil-proof. When it is rather thick and deep-golden in colour, remove it from the heat and pour this onto a waxed-paper or parchment-paper-lined baking tray. Allow to cool and set.
3)I then broke this candy-like slab roughly into pieces about 1″-2″ wide, and allowed it to dry thoroughly for a few weeks. I forgot about these pieces for some time actually. The edges and surface of these pieces will become pale as it dries.
4)I then took these hard pieces, gently smashed them in a mortar-and-pestle, and then sifted the powder from this. The larger “pebbles” that remained in the sieve I then placed in an electric grinder and pulverised, then poured through the sieve. You could, instead, continue the pulverising in the mortar-and-pestle if you wish. The resultant near-fine powder I poured into a jar and screwed on the cap. Whey powder dissolves in water, so a good soaking makes the cleaning of any utensils used simple enough, and what was once many quarts now fits within my hands. Much easier to use now, perhaps…
[Miss Muffet illustration at introduction by William Wallace Denslow. Public domain, and used freely with that knowledge here]