Eating your curds and whey
Little Miss Muffet was a wise little lady.
Whey powder is the "in-thing" among athletes/vegetarians and the like as the way to get your daily protein needs without a lot of meats — and a way to bulk up and/or keep muscle mass while keeping your weight under control. It’s also touted as beneficial to keeping your brain healthy, particularly in the areas of memory loss.
It’s estimated that we tend to loose 1-percent of our muscle mass per year after age 30. That adds up fast. That accounts for the flapping underarm "wings" when you’re an old great-gramma like me.
However, my "discretionary funds" don’t stretch far enough to keep my pantry stocked with whey powder. You all but need a bank loan to buy a can. That may be a good thing. Besides the price and the lengthy list of ingredients, you may be getting whey made from cows that have been pumped full of GMO feeds, antibiotics and growth hormones and never saw a blade of grass. Kinda defeats the purpose. (And it tastes pukey.)
Miss Muffet’s bowl of curds and whey came from the mornings milking of naturally fed, sun-drenched green pastured cows — Jerseys, hopefully.
Up on my grandparent’s farm, at the end of Tucker Ridge, Grampa Roy always had Jerseys. They are renowned for their high butter-fat milk. And Grammie Mabel was renowned for her butter, which was in high demand at the general store where she traded it for dry goods like sugar and flour.
One day, one of Grampa’s cows gave birth to twins. And so, my brother and I were then proud owners of our own cow. My brother named his cow "Dolly” for her pretty frame, huge, soft brown eyes and long lashes. And she kept herself clean — no mud wading for her.
My cow became “Boots” for her love of wading in the mud, resulting in perpetual brown muck half way up her legs. She was as gentle as a, well, a cow, while Dolly was a stuck up snob.
But they both supplied us with all the milk necessary for our daily milk and cream, the pigs swill pail and Friday’s churning — and extra butter for Grammie’s trading and buttermilk for her biscuits and Grampa’s drinking.
Grampa ran the milk separator mornings and evenings from the twice a day milkings. We saved out the whole milk for daily drinking/cooking and making "curds and whey" milk before separating. After separating, the cream went into the cellar-way for Friday’s churning and the fat-free stuff into the swill bucket with other food scraps for the pigs. Today, more people drink what we’d feed the hogs with than the whole milk. Curious.
Grammie would make her cottage cheese in a big pan on the "Modern Clarion" cook-stove. Such an easy process! And yet, who does it today? Most everyone, instead, buys cottage cheese in tubs — ever read the ingredients list? — at a higher cost.
Making cottage cheese Grammie’s way — and the way most still make it today — can take more time than the super easy way I make mine today. The old way involves a thermometer, longer cooking, more stirring, etc.
My way takes about 6-7 minutes. I call it my "Easy-Cheesy Cheese and Whey.” Simply dump into a pot — about twice the size of the amount of milk you use — however much milk you want to use. I use from a quart to a gallon, depending on how much I want at a time. It keeps well — and will certainly be fresher than any store bought.
I like to use a enameled cast iron stock pot. Oh, and have a bowl with a fine mesh strainer over it at the ready. I also line the strainer with cheese cloth as I hang the curds up to thoroughly drain of whey. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring — and please use a wooden spoon — until it boils. Turn heat down a bit to keep it from boiling over — you do not want it to boil over, really — but keep it boiling while stirring, for five minutes. Then squeeze about "a half of a half" of a lemons worth of juice into it, turn the heat lower and stir constantly. After about a minute, add more lemon juice. By now, you will see it separating into curds and whey. As soon as you see it has separated good, pour into strainer and let drain a few minutes. Then, when cool enough to handle, gather up the cheesecloth and hand over the bowl or squeeze out the remaining whey.
Now the whey is ready to drink as is, quite mild with a soft hint of lemon. Also easy to mix in smoothies and/or milkshakes. (I also put in my "Spicy" V8 juice.) I use it in my soups, especially my chicken or vegetable soups. I really doesn’t change the flavor and is a super simple way to sneak the super nutritious protein-laden whey into your unsuspecting family’s meals.
The cottage cheese is also ready to eat. With the lemon juice, it really doesn’t need any salt. If you haven’t had fresh-made cottage cheese before, you’ll notice this is dry, unlike the store-bought. That’s because the store-bought has added cream. So if you want it that way, simply add in a bit of cream — organic, please, or else why bother making it. I like it either way, but particularly like it dry to crumble over salads. It’s also a great snack with peaches or pineapple. I like, also, to sprinkle raw sunflower seeds or salted Pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) over it. A great snack or side dish.
So, beside the ease of making your own "curds and whey," what other benefits are there?
Whey is a primary part of body builders, athletes’ daily diet. Why? It’s a building block of muscle. But that’s just a start. It also is touted for boosting your immune system, primarily due to the alkalinity of both whey and cottage cheese. If we keep our systems in the right PH balance between acidity and alkalinity, disease has an almost impossible chance of taking hold. A strong immune system protects you against a wide array of illnesses and goes a long way in getting you well, should you get sick. It’s a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.
Whey is also used in weight loss programs, particularly to cut down on gut fat. It’s good for weight loss in general since you can cut down on meats, especially red meat, and still get your needed protein. It’s also listed as good for your hair, nails and skin, and all cells in general. Since we are one big mass of cells stuck together, it seems whey is a good way to go.
So pull up your "tuffet" (a stool totally covered in cloth, like a small hassock), tip your hat to Miss Muffet and drink your whey to health.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award winning columnist, is a Maine native and a graduate of Belfast, now living in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.