On a recent trip to Jasper Hill Farm, I had the distinct pleasure not only of tasting many delicious cheeses made and aged here in New England, but also of getting acquainted with some inhabitants of the farm who happen to be just as fond of dairy products — or by-products as the case may be — as I am.
The farm has acquired its group of piglets for the season, and man, do they love whey!
Farms producing milk and making cheese from it inherently find themselves with loads of whey, the liquid that separates out from the milk when cheese curds are formed. There are some great uses for this tangy liquid — in some cases, you can use it to make traditional ricotta and other cheeses. Or you can use it in the kitchen in place of water in breads, sauces and stews. Or you can just drink it straight, as it’s filled with protein, vitamins and minerals. You can really only consume so much whey though, and inevitably you can’t keep up with production. So the question becomes: what to do with the rest?
As it turns out, animals really dig whey. I can attest to this first hand, as I’ve watched my dog, a cuddly and sweet goldendoodle, vie for drinking space from a bucket of whey with three pushy 150-pound pigs. I’ve also seen goats practically leap over each other and any potential obstacle between themselves and this magical liquid just to get a good seat at the fountain.
Feeding the whey to farm animals works beneficially for everyone involved — nothing gets wasted (and a farmer really loves that!) and the animals get additional nutrition. For pigs, whey is especially great. As they enjoy the refreshing treat, it simultaneously makes their meat more flavorful, rich and sweet. It’s hard to think about these cute little piglets growing up to be dinner, but unfortunately it is a reality for most of us. More and more, people are growing their own food, raising their own animals, or supporting others who do so locally and responsibly. It’s an added plus when locally-raised meat tastes delicious, and whey-fed pork fits that description. The Italians have been doing it for centuries — the whey made from making Parmigiano Reggiano is fed to the pigs that are grown for making Prosciutto di Parma, and we all know how well that turned out. Moral of the story: Find some local farmers who are raising pigs and feeding them whey, either from their own dairy or a neighbor’s, and buy their meat!
Rachel Polonsky is an American cheese buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.